Navigating the Fresher’s Minefield
It’s the Big One! Off to Uni, with a million things to do, to remember… and to enjoy!
Enjoyment is a big part of the university experience, writes Richard McCann, but far too many Freshers become part of the ‘What went wrong’ statistics. That’s because they simply aren’t prepared. And while older students can help with tips about coping with student politics or weird house mates, we now live in times where safety and security are other issues you’ll probably be dealing with for the first time.
So with the new term fast approaching we asked the team at national security experts Leisuresec to apply the same principles they use when assessing the risks at a client premises, and to come up with some smart safety tips for freshers. Here’s their advice:
Identify the principle risk elements
- An unfamiliar environment
- Peer pressure
- Cheap drinks
- Independence from home
Step 1 - Sort your life out!
Fresher's Week doesn't mean you can forget all responsibility.
- Make sure you have paid your rent, you can actually access the library, and so on. It will be useful when your tutors start giving you work to do!
- Keep your living area in a reasonable state. Mouldy food and dirty laundry strewn everywhere are fast ways to lose friends and alienate love interests!
- Don’t be one of the idiots who spends their student loan for the term during Freshers' Week, and then has to scrape by with a student job you hate and a maxed-out overdraft for the rest of your first term. Your new mates will not be impressed.
Budgeting will seem irritating at first, but having a clear idea of what you need to spend on food, socialising, and materials for study (that's what you're there for) will enable you to enjoy ten weeks as opposed to just one. Avoid expensive takeaways and clothes stores and you should be fine!
Step 2 - Getting around
No doubt you will have read a lot about the actual University, but we also recommend a little internet research into your new neighbourhood in readiness for the adventure ahead.
- It’s worth looking at tourist information - although it’s not student-specific you will still gain valuable knowledge about the area and be able to plan safe routes to and from events.
- Type ‘student life’ into your phone browser followed by the location of your university and you will receive all the information you need regarding where students are welcome and when. Occasionally, locals display resentment towards students so it’s best to avoid establishments where there is any doubt about the welcome you would receive.
- A further step you can take to stay safe in your new home and neighbourhood is to have a look at the student based crime statistics in your area and take sensible precautions. Here’s a link http://www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk/crime-in-university-towns-an...
Step 3 - Travel Safely at Night
Plan your nights out – think about where you are going, and how you will get home.
- Store the numbers of some local taxi firms on your phone and think about pre-booking a cab.
- If you decide to get a taxi home, only get in a taxi that is clearly licensed by the local council.
- Don't hitchhike or accept a lift from strangers.
- Never walk around at night on your own. Walk in groups and make sure you have all your friends before leaving a bar or club or making your way home.
- If you do ever have to walk alone at night, think about investing in a personal alarm, stick to busy well-lit streets, avoid underpasses and walk facing the traffic so a car can't pull up beside you unnoticed. Have your keys ready so you can get into your house quickly.
- When planning nights out take the time to plan your route home. If you have to walk, make sure you follow a route avoiding canals and bridges.
- Be wary of casual requests from passers-by. Someone asking for a cigarette or wanting to know the time could have ulterior motives.
- If a car stops and asks for directions, keep your distance.
- Avoid displaying expensive personal items that may attract the attention of thieves.
Step 4 – Safe Cash
- If you need to withdraw cash for your night out, try to do it during the day. If you have to use a cashpoint at night, do so in a group and avoid ATMs in quiet deserted streets.
- Set aside some money at the beginning of the night to make sure you are able to get home at the end of the night.
- If, by the end of the night, you don’t have enough money to get the whole way home, stay with a friend overnight and travel the rest of the way in the morning.
Step 5 – Stay Healthy
Pace yourself! ‘Freshers’ Week’ can actually go on for a fortnight at some universities - 14 days of partying by thousands of young people, most of whom will be living away from home for the first time. No one can party until 4am every day without consequences - but many will try.
As a fresher you will be experiencing a range of emotions
- These will fluctuate between fear, anxiety, excitement and exhilaration.
- This is normal – most people will experience the same, but many will do their level best to appear unfazed by the imminent parting of company from friends and family.
- It's OK to miss home!
- No one will admit it, but peek into any fresher's room and a mournful teddy bear or partially hidden comfort blanket will be lying around.
- Missing home, parents, and siblings is completely understandable, and every year a few students will drop out after just a few weeks because they aren't ready to fly the nest.
- The best way to avoid homesickness is to strive for a balance – talk to your parents, but not more than once every couple of days.
- Try to discuss home life with new friends, as they will almost certainly be going through the same process.
If you suffer from asthma attacks, nut allergies, epilepsy or any other potentially fatal condition make sure someone in your social group knows about it.
- Let them know where you keep your medication and how it’s meant to be taken.
- Ideally the more of your close friends know about it this the better as well as the relevant persons at your Uni.
- If you do find yourself on the verge of being physically sick through overindulgence but at the same time you have a more pressing desire to sleep, try to prop yourself up with pillows and cushions and lay slightly sideways.
- By doing this if you do vomit during the night at least you are unlikely to choke. Asphyxiation through vomit is a common occurrence.
- If one of your fellow students is in such a state, prop them up in the same way and try to make it standard practice among your accommodation sharing group.
Step 6 - Making New Friends
Everyone remembers their first day at school and the fear that they would be unable to make friends and would not fit in.
Nobody will want to admit it but as they teeter on the brink of adulthood those same juvenile fears of self-doubt are annoyingly beginning to resurface in the minds of our Freshers.
- It’s important that these emotions are acknowledged and to recognise that it’s normal to feel this way. This will enable you to rationalise your actions.
- Accept the absurdity of wanting to make new friends so much that you might do something stupid if you are presented with an opportunity to impress your new peer group.
- This will typically involve risking life and limb in the process.
- Is it worth a trip to A&E or a life-changing injury simply to get a quick laugh?
- When you’re drunk your answer could be ‘yes’, so consider that while you’re still rational.
Crowd Pleasing - While you are experiencing a disproportionate need to become an accepted member of the pack you are at your most vulnerable.
- For this reason, we can conclude that the most dangerous risk element to a fresher’s safety is their ‘crowd pleaser’ frame of mind.
- Up to this point, when confronted with one of life’s risky situations, someone who knows you well would tell you to stop showing off before you get hurt or get into trouble.
- At university no one really knows you well enough – yet - and everyone wants to be entertained so you are far more likely to be encouraged to take risks.
- Admit it – young people on a night out will not worry too much about a drunk they don’t know getting hurt. You need to be the one who cares about yourself - because they won’t.
- The line between campus hero and campus idiot is a narrow one.
Step 7 - Drugs
According to NHS choices, students are far more likely than the general population to take drugs.
- Universities take student safety extremely seriously and support and advice is available in abundance on every related topic
- Unfortunately many students just don’t take advantage of the support on offer so raising awareness is important – maybe this will help!
- The National Union of Students has a wealth of experience and helplines for to students. Have look at Nightline to see if their 24-hour support and non-judgemental listening service is available in your area - a telephone number will be on your NUS card.
- There are some excellent websites giving you full details of the effects of drugs and the dangers and what to do if you feel you have unwittingly taken something. Here are two: Frank - http://www.talktofrank.com/ and NHS Choices -http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/drugs/Pages/Drugshome.aspx.
- Check them out BEFORE you need them!
Step 8 - Booze and bars
This is where lots of the problems arise, so let’s look at the best ways to avoid serious injury and death!
You will have seen that many of our Smart Tips relate to evenings out. That’s because every year, universities and police warn of the dangers of Freshers Week – and every year that is followed by the tragic news of more student deaths and serious injuries.
- Fun can quickly turn foul resulting in a series of student fatalities that are entirely preventable if the right precautions are in place.
- We must never forget all the intelligent young people with great futures to enjoy who tragically gave their lives so needlessly during Freshers Weeks. People such as the fresher who plunged to his death after drinking a bottle of rum in 15 minutes and falling down stairs and suffering severe head injuries. But perhaps you’ve forgotten already?
- Hopefully you still remember the two freshers whose bodies were tragically pulled from the river by police during their evening out.
Some freshers don't drink:
If you don't drink for religious or personal reasons, you are by no means alone.
- Student unions have recently got their heads around this idea, and will host alcohol-free social events.
- If your faith is important to you, every university will have Islamic, Jewish, and Christian societies representing different denominations.
- There is no need to spend time with people who are constantly drunk and boring – the best thing about university is that there will always be someone like-minded out there in the crowd.
For the students who do drink, it’s important to take some precautions:
It’s an undeniable fact that drink is a prime factor behind death and serious injury of freshers. It’s also a fact of student life that you will be encouraged to drink more alcohol than you have ever consumed in your life. And you will at some point succumb to this pressure - most likely on a regular basis
- If you are going out drinking in a group, have at least one designated sober person.
- This duty can change from person to person on different nights and as a reward maybe the designated person gets to drink for free at the next drinking session. Let them know your normal limitations and when to keep an eye on you
- This person has to ensure that no drunk person goes home alone. Preferably one or two persons of the same sex should accompany them.
- Unconscious student customers are regularly found alone in toilets by security staff. Often the student is unable to communicate properly even when brought back to a conscious state and certainly in no fit state to be allowed out into the night alone.
- In these circumstances professional Door Supervisors will seek out any friends that person was seen with during the course of the evening but otherwise they will look for identification and a residential address on the person by checking their wallet or purse so they can put them, safely into a taxi.
- The pub or club owe you a duty of care and will not let you out if it is not safe to do so. For this reason, our advice is to have a piece of paper with the address of your Halls of Residence and the number of at least one good friend printed in bold writing.
- Don’t put your actual room number on the paper in case someone with less honourable intentions gets hold of it in which case you may find your place has been relieved of your most valuable possessions by the time you get home.
Spiked drinks. It’s a crime - irrespective of the accompanying motive.
- The motive for spiking a drink can be robbery, assault including sexual assault or a prank.
- Here are some simple tips to minimise your becoming a victim:
- Never leave your drink unattended- if you’re heading to the dancefloor or toilets, ask a friend you trust to look after them.
- Never accept a drink from someone you don’t know
- If you are going to accept a drink make sure you can see the bartender pour it keep watching to ensure nothing is added prior to receiving it.
- If in doubt make an excuse but don’t drink it.
- Try to stick with bottled drinks, avoid punch bowls, or jugs for sharing.
- Don’t assume soft drinks can’t be spiked. They can.
- If you think your drink may have been tampered with, don’t drink it. It’s not worth the risk.
- Typical substances used to spike drinks are prescription tranquilisers and ketamine. GHB is also used but you may at least notice an odd smell or notice saltiness.
- Remember - alcohol is very dangerous to a non-drinker and double or triple measures will have an effect if you are not expecting it or are unused to a lot of alcohol.
Step 9 - Sex and Rape
One of the most serious problems we need to cover will occur as a direct consequence of your change of circumstances - the combination of student accommodation, new friends of both sexes and cheap alcohol.
First date advice:
- Activate the tracker on your phone and permit at least one person to access it.
- Let a friend know what time you expect to get home and agree to check in with them when you do.
- Let your friend know where you are and who you are with if you need to turn your phone off.
In your previous life only those persons very close to you, in a relationship with you, or in some way trusted by you would ever find themselves in your bedroom. In this new world where your bedroom is your entire home and people you met less than 24 hours ago are being treated as lifelong friends it is easy to see how intentions can be misinterpreted.
- As an experiment, a group of students watched a video of a re-enactment of an actual legal case where a couple who already knew each other had been drinking together one evening and eventually ended up having sex. Afterwards the female claimed she had been raped on the grounds that she was drunk and had not consented.
- The male said it was consensual as she did not resist nor did she say no.
- A point to consider which will further complicate matters is the absence of the word no does not automatically mean consent has been given.
- Despite watching the entire scenario play out, the mixed audience could not agree whether it was rape or consensual sex.
- This puts in to perspective how difficult it is for a jury with only testimony after the event to work with.
- Even more worrying is how easily one could be a victim in these circumstances. Being raped or accused of rape is no trivial thing.
Unfortunately, the pushing of boundaries and enjoying new found freedom will bring consequences and there will always be predators as well as hapless victims.
There will also be genuinely well intended but socially inept persons that misread signals on a daily basis, so it’s far from being a straightforward situation whenever two young adults meet – especially where drink and drugs are added to the mix. Avoid being in that position as much as possible - sadly only abstinence is foolproof – and consider some basic steps that might help reduce the risks:
- If you are invited back to a fellow student’s room find out who else is going to be there and make sure you are not the last one to leave.
- By the same token if you have a group of people in your room make sure you don’t find yourself alone with a relative stranger no matter how pleasant and easy going they may appear to be.
- Make sure the last two guests leave together he or she might get the idea that you wanted to be left alone with them and just one misunderstanding can lead to an allegation that no one wants associated with their name.
- If you do decide the time is right to get intimate with a consenting partner, our advice would be that you both turn off your phones and put them out of reach. Those photographs on the internet all came from somewhere; the heat of the moment, mischievous fun with or without consent. You will eventually regret their existence at some point so take precautions to avoid them being taken in the first place.
Step 10 - Smart Tip Summary
- Start budgeting today or regret it next month
- Get to know your new neighbourhood
- When travelling at night – plan ahead
- Remember safe cash conduct
- Stay healthy – pace yourself
- Don’t ‘crowd please’ – understand your emotions
- Spiked drinks – be alert!
- Protect yourself and others when drinking
- Rape – be aware of the dangers for both the victim and the accused
Remember the students whose Fresher’s Week turned to tragedy – make yours memorable for all the right reasons.