The Consummate Host: How Institutions Can Protect Inbound Student Safety

The statistics revealed in the 2015 Open Doors Report demonstrate just how internationalized U.S. higher education has become: not only has the number of study abroad students more than tripled over the last few decades, but the number of international students at U.S. colleges and universities experienced the highest rate of growth in thirty-five years. In fact a record high of 974,926 international students studied at U.S colleges and universities in 2014/15; a 10% increase over last year and the highest rate of growth since 1978/79.

international students

And while this enhanced diversity at U.S. colleges and institutions is great for a number of reasons, it also brings increased risk and liability to U.S. colleges and universities. The good news? Student affairs professionals can mitigate these risks and ensure a safer, more welcoming experience for their inbound students. Here’s what our Chief Security Officer, Jim Hutton, recommends for doing just that.

Set the Right Tone: When students are miles away from home, it’s the seemingly “little things” that can really make a difference in easing the transition. First and foremost, establish a trusted channel of communication early on and reinforce it through a drumbeat of introductory materials and consistent messages. Then, reinforce these messages through ongoing orientation and programming initiatives. Any information presented to students should reflect a “what to expect” and “how to set yourself up for success” mentality rather than a list of do’s and don’ts. College is intended to be a time of personal and intellectual growth and if students feel coddled, or worse, patronized, they may rebel in their efforts to assert independence.

Demystify Healthcare: Navigating an unfamiliar healthcare landscape is a challenge for anyone, let alone a full-time student. Aside from language barriers and international health insurance complications, emotional, sexual and reproductive health concerns can carry an added stigma for those who may feel culturally intimidated.  In addition to ensuring your international students know what type of health insurance is required, they should know which plans are available to them, such as institutional, governmental or family insurance. Educate students on how and where to access appropriate types and levels of medical services, including bilingual health staff and/or third-party translation services for emergency response and crisis hotlines. Even if international students are fluent in English, translation will increase comfort in stressful, high-stake situations.

Encourage Personal Safety: Many international students hail from countries that have more conservative drug and alcohol norms and laws than here in the U.S.—and some may even be accustomed to living in areas that have different views on crime and legal punishment. Wherever students’ perceptions may lie, it’s your institution’s responsibility to explain relevant U.S. laws and campus policies. Aside from common-sense personal safety precautions such as encouraging the buddy system and knowing the “right and wrong” places in town, you may also want to provide self-defense and safety classes on campus or through partnerships with local agencies.  Distribute wallet-sized cards and digital resources containing key information for finding help, such as local law enforcement, 911, your travel risk management firm and even how to access highway patrol. If there is no bilingual security staff on campus, translation services should also be an accessible option.

Ease Transportation Woes: Since road rules and driving practices vary by country; safety, liability and insurance issues can arise for international students—particularly when students ride in vehicles with other students (for example, during sporting events). To help counter these risks, share important information such as recommended drivers’ education programs, advice for navigating your area’s public transportation system, and even your institution’s policies and recommended best practices for using shared transportation services such as Uber and Lyft. If using sharing economy services is not recommended or permissible at your institution, make sure to include a list of reliable alternatives, such as car/taxi services.

Keep Close Tabs: If students are planning to explore other parts of the city or spend the weekend away from campus, encourage communication with local faculty leaders and/or designated administrative staff regarding travel plans and locations. Establish a roster of emergency contacts and confirm everyone is aware of whom these individuals are, their roles, and how to get in touch with them if they feel their safety has been compromised. Ironing out these types of details before a situation arises helps ensure that student safety is not compromised due to inefficient and/or delayed communications. Students should not feel restricted by this, but instead, feel encouraged by their institutions efforts to protect their health, safety and well-being.

To learn more about how to keep your international students safe and protected, contact us today.