How to help your college student stay safe on campus

August 18, 2017
by Black Tree

Ask most college students what “situational awareness” means, and most will mutter something along the lines of “being aware of your surroundings” or “knowing what’s going on around you.” While their explanations aren’t wrong, they are somewhat incomplete. Though many students may be familiar with the term, their understanding of its depth and value is lacking. And for parents looking to ensure their children’s safety while off at college, vague explanations and general ignorance can be worrisome.

What is situational awareness?

In military terms, situational awareness is known as the ability to identify, process, and comprehend the critical elements of information about what is happening to the team with regard to a mission. This skill is a vital part of operational success. Through this thorough training, each member of the unit knows they can fully count on one another.

How situational awareness relates to on-campus safety

While the stakes obviously aren’t as high on a college campus as they are on the battlefield, that doesn’t mean situational awareness isn’t a valuable skill for college students to practice. Unfortunately, it often takes horrific events like the recent University of Texas stabbing to remind people that these things do sometimes happen.

Rather than blowing these situations off as “random” or “completely unpredictable,” college students owe it to themselves to be as prepared and safe as possible during their time at school.

What does situational awareness look like for college students?

There’s a scene in The Bourne Identity in which Jason Bourne spouts off the height, weight, and characteristics of every person at the diner he’s sitting in — along with the license plate numbers of every car in the parking lot. While this level of vigilance is probably unrealistic (and unnecessary) for college students, there are many ways they can increase their awareness and safety on campus.

Have realistic conversations

In order for students to practice situational awareness, the thought has to first be in their head. These conversations definitely need to take place, but it’s important for parents not to try and scare their kids into obedience. A fear-mongering presentation of the dangers of college can make the parents’ concerns seem paranoid, dramatic, or silly in the eyes of the student — ultimately causing them to disengage and disregard the message’s importance altogether. Instead, talk about real situations that have taken place at universities in the past, how the student would react similar situations, and how those situations could be avoided.

Encourage actionable tactics

Rather than vague warnings of “be careful” or “stay safe,” encourage specific habits that students can employ during their time at school. For example:

  • Don’t walk long distances alone at night
  • Use your headphones sparingly
  • Don’t have your head constantly buried in your phone as you move around campus
  • Take note of callbox locations on-campus
  • Avoid situations where your judgement is impaired

Understand the 5 Levels of Awareness

Though it may sound gimmicky, there are five generally accepted levels of awareness that people employ, and having an understanding of them can be an effective tool in helping students remember to stay tuned into their surroundings.

It’s easiest to think of these awareness levels in terms of driving a car.

  • Level 1 – Tuned out: You’re driving in a familiar environment, engrossed in thought or daydreaming.
  • Level 2 – Relaxed awareness: You’re on the highway — aware of your surroundings and on the lookout for potential hazards, but you’re relaxed.
  • Level 3 – Focused awareness: You’re driving in hazardous weather conditions or in a foreign environment. You make sure to keep your eyes on the road and you’re fully focused on the drivers around you.
  • Level 4 – High alert: A car pulls out in front of you or something dangerous happens that causes you to tense up or gasp.
  • Level 5 – Comatose: Something frightening suddenly happens — causing you to freeze up.

Different situations necessitate different levels of awareness, but a good goal for college students is to remain at level two for most of the day. Humans weren’t built to be on high alert at all times. Staying at level four or five is exhausting and unsustainable. But learning to take note of situations and responsibly evaluate risk is an important skill that can allow students — and people in general — to live safe and happy lives.

Improving your situational awareness is a great way to build confidence and become more knowledgeable about the world around you.

Saturday, August 26th Black Tree will be conducting two Situational Awareness & Survival Training sessions in Austin, Texas at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center on the University of Texas campus.

Join world-class U.S. Military instructors in a unique training opportunity as they guide you through mental and physical practices that can keep you safe if you encounter an unexpected or life-threatening scenario. This is necessary college prep for students, but equally valuable for all adults.

Gain the skills and confidence to be more in tune with your surroundings. Register now for this unique opportunity.


Click Here to Register:



When: August 26th, 8AM – NOON or 1PM – 5PM

Where: AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center – UT Campus