When I was eight years old, I heard the story of Kelsey Smith.
Kelsey was an eighteen-year-old girl about to graduate high school. She was vivacious, full of life and ready to start a new chapter of her life at college. On June 2, 2007, Kelsey went to a Target in Overland Park, to purchase a gift. Her family knew where she was headed, and expected to hear from her in about an hour — but then, they didn’t.
They quickly concluded something was wrong. Kelsey’s car was still in the parking lot at a neighboring shopping mall, but she was nowhere to be found. Four days later, Kelsey Smith’s body was found. She had been brutally assaulted and murdered.
The Target that Kelsey visited is very near to my house. I vividly remember praying with my family each night Kelsey was missing, hoping that police would find her, alive.
After Kelsey’s murder, my family and I started asking questions. If this happened to her, in the Target we visited all the time, it could happen to us as well. Kelsey’s parents, Greg and Missey Smith, founded the Kelsey’s Army foundation and began traveling the nation speaking about personal safety and simple steps to take to protect yourself.
College is an exciting time of life — new places, new people and new experiences are everywhere. But it’s also a time of new dangers. The Department of Justice reports that persons age 18 to 21 are most likely to experience a violent crime out of any other age group. How can you make sure you’re not part of that statistic? Here are three tips to increase your personal safety.
1. Look Up
Most of us walk the same routes almost every day, whether that’s going to and from classes, walking back to an apartment or trekking to the parking lot. We could probably do these with our eyes closed, and often virtually do so — we walk with our head down, looking at our phone or simply not paying attention to our surroundings.
One of the simplest ways to protect yourself is by increasing your awareness. Look around when you walk from place to place. Notice what’s happening around you — if there is a group of people stopped ahead, if you’re the only person in sight or if something seems off.
When you’re not paying attention, you can become a target. Look up, make eye contact and walk with purpose.
2. Let Someone Know
Kelsey Smith always texted her family or a friend whenever she was changing locations or leaving the house. When her family didn’t hear from her as they usually did, they were able to assess the situation and realize that something was wrong fairly quickly.
If you’re going out on the weekend, running a few errands or taking a road trip, take a few seconds to shoot your roommates or a trusted friend a text letting them know where you’re going and about how long you expect to be there. That way, if anything ever did go wrong, someone would know and send help.
3. Leave Prepared
When you leave your house, dorm or apartment, it’s always a good idea to have a few essentials. A fully charged phone and backup charger cord is probably the most important, but having a whistle, pepper spray or taser is also advisable. Make sure you understand how to use any tool you bring with you, so you’re prepared if you ever need it.
K-State offers many resources to keep you safe, from Wildcat Walk to SafeRide and more. If you’re ever in a situation where you have to walk across campus alone or in the dark, or you ever feel unsafe walking around the area, these are easy, helpful resources to use.
Personal safety doesn’t have to mean being paranoid, but it does mean being aware. Looking up, letting someone know and leaving prepared are three simple ways to ensure you stay safe and have a fantastic college experience.
Olivia Rogers is a community editor for the Collegian, the vice president of the University Honors Program and a senior in political science. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and the persons interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.