Self Defense on Campus — Your Next Back to School Essential

Going to college is scary. It can become overwhelming between new people, a new place, and the first taste of independence. Many high school seniors watch videos and read articles about essentials for college. Have you considered self-defense on campus? Likely the answer is no for thousands of college students across the country. So, here is my advice, from one college student to another.

Woman walking around on campus with books and coffee in her hands.
Going to college is both exciting and horrifying. Are you ready? [Photo Credit: Andrea Piacquadio]

Normalcy Bias

Your first back-to-school essential is to eliminate normalcy bias. An attack may happen when you are least expecting it, which for some is anytime. Many of my peers think horrible things could never happen to them until it’s too late. Understanding that you are at risk at any time can make it easier to be prepared and have a plan.

Woman at table looking at the screen of her computer.
Most Millenial and Gen Z students have watched several youtube videos before each major level of educationespecially before going to college. What do I need for my dorm this time… [Photo Credit: Ketut Subiyanto]

Situational Awareness

Once you understand the reality that it can happen to you, it’s time to learn about situational awareness. If you’re broke like most of the student body, situational awareness is the best free tool you could have handy. Situational awareness—if practiced consistently and properly—eventually becomes a habit. Know who is around you, your exits, and entrances. Listen to those passing and keep an eye and ear out for anything unusual. 

Man peering out the door of a college campus building.
Whenever you enter a new space, it helps if you keep track of all entrances and exits. [Photo Credit: Linkedin Sales Navigator]
No matter how tempting, keeping at least one earbud out and your nose out of your phone is an absolute must for situational awareness. That split second you missed because you had to pause your music and take out your earbud could make the difference between life and death. 

You may be thinking, “Isn’t that a bit extreme? I’ve never been hurt and everyone else does it.” Nope! Listening to music and sending out texts between classes is nice, but the moment you let your guard down could be detrimental. On a campus of thousands of strangers—that the general public also has complete access to—you can never be too careful.

Woman with earbuds in and her eyes focused on her phone as she walks through college campus.
Many teenagers are equally guilty of enjoying walking around with music blaring and staring down at their phones. However, it’s best to stay aware of your surroundings. [Photo Credit: Charlotte May]

Common Sense

Next is common sense. This may seem completely obvious but let me ask you a question: What do you do first when approaching your car? Are you digging through your bookbag for your keys? Or are they ready in your hand? What about when you make it into your car, do you turn on music, put on your seatbelt, or lock your doors first? 

Man holding car keys out mid frame.
The last thing you’d want in an empty parking lot is needing to shuffle through your bag for your keys, prolonging the already nerve-racking experience. [Photo Credit: Kaboompics]
Simple moments like these can make or break a worst-case scenario. Using this analogy, the safest way to make it to your car would be to have your keys in your hand as you approach your car, get in quickly, and lock your doors before anything else. 

Also, the most important piece of common sense to live by is one I’ve been told anytime I go out. Don’t go to stupid places with stupid people at stupid times to do stupid things. Though it’s redundant, it’s the easiest to remember. 

These skills and habits alone can easily make a difference in a sketchy situation—but what do you do when you get attacked? Here are some tools for defending yourself when things go south.

Men fighting, one holding the older by the collar of his shirt against a wall seeming to yell, and the other man avoiding eye contact during the interaction.
A threat can strike at any time. Always have a plan. [Photo Credit: Mart Production]
Campuses across the country generally don’t allow concealed carry, especially within buildings if not on the entire campus. So, college students are left to other options. 

Self-Defense Tools for On Campus

Pepper Spray

My number one self-defense tool is SABRE Red pepper spray. Pepper spray is perfect to protect yourself at a distance while other options are typically only good for close combat. However, if it’s used it has to be used properly and safely.

Three packages of SABRE Red pepper spray.
SABRE Red comes in many shapes and sizes, but they are all a perfect fit for self-defense. [Photo Credit: Opticsplanet]
It is best to take a class so you know how to properly handle pepper spray. Many classes also spray you during training so if any were to get in your eyes you’d know exactly what to expect. Not everyone can find or afford a class though, so minimally pay attention to the direction of the wind if it’s available. If you’re fighting for your life the last thing you want is pepper spray in your eyes instead of the attacker’s. The best way to get quality pepper spray if you have to buy locally may be to stop by a nearby gun store. 

What about keychain self-defense?

Various keys tucked between the fingers of a woman's hand intended for self-defense.
Please don’t do this, you’re more likely to hurt yourself than the attacker. [Photo Credit: Taylor Yocom]
First off, we are going to rule out putting your keys between your fingers—that’s a fast way to hurt yourself more than your attacker. Many college students shop for cute yet secretive weapons that blend into a bulky keychain. No matter how cool that resin Brutus is from Etsy, it won’t save you. 

Keychain weapons should also not be your first line of defense. Most options are only good at close range. But, if you want one, your best option is a Kubotan. A Kubotan if used properly is the most reliable option for your keychain. Their use ranges from jabbing, creating a flail, or helping pack a better punch. They can also be used for wrist locks. 

Two hands holding Kubotans next to each other.
Kubotans are great for anyone and are incredibly effective if used properly. [Photo Credit: unknown via Pinterest]

Other Tools and Methods

For the love of god if you’re relying on a stun gun for your safety—find anything else. Between the unreliability of the battery, lack of structural integrity, and relying on direct skin contact, most stun guns on the market don’t do more than lightly shock the attacker. That light shock does little to nothing if your attacker is high on adrenaline or drugs. 

Next, no matter what you may believe you are not Jackie Chan. We all wish we were, but in reality, that fantasy where you defend yourself against an attacker with a swift kick to the groin isn’t realistic. Instead, with only your body to defend yourself with you’d be better off heavily trained in martial arts. However, this should not in any case be your only form of protection. Even the best in martial arts would only have a mild boost against an attacker. 

man holding a whistle as he looks off in the distance.
As much as I wish they helped, rape whistles should be the last thing you rely on. [Photo Credit: Cottonbro]
Lastly is noise. Contrary to popular belief, carrying a rape whistle will likely get ignored instead of summoning help. How many times have you heard a whistle in public and followed through looking for the victim? If you are left to scream, the word that would garner the best response would likely be ‘fire’ or ‘rape’. 

Overall, safety on campus is more than the tools you use.

However, when using tools it’s important to know what’s allowed on campus and what is effective. Understanding that it could happen to you, keeping your situational awareness high, and your common sense in check all make a significant difference in a fight for your life. Also, consider adding SABRE Red pepper spray and a quality Kubotan to your back-to-school shopping list.

Three college students walking on campus down the steps of their university.
Have a safe school year! [Photo Credit: George Pak]
Grace Ainsworth Stevens is an outdoor writer and political cartoonist who writes for a number of industry publications including The Truth About Guns and Breach Bang Clear. She's been hunting everything from deer to feral hogs since grade school and started honing her handgun skills at the age of 13. Grace's art is Second Amendment focused and speaks to current events and gun world cliches. She's also a college sophomore and will fight you over robotics and early education issues.

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