August 26, 2014

GUEST ROOM: Shaping a Safer Student Experience

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Welcome back to campus! If you’re a first-year student, congratulations and a special welcome to Cornell. Regardless of where you are in your studies, I know you are eager to make the most of your time here. Our daily mission as the Cornell University Police is to maintain a safe environment, and it is the University’s commitment as well — and we need your help.

It takes the investment of the entire Cornell community to keep our campus safe. Each of us has a role, a responsibility to help make Cornell a respectful, civil and safe space. Take care of yourself, seek help when it’s needed and please, look out for others in our community whenever you can. I know we can’t count on everyone to be respectful, and unfortunately we must sometimes take precautions that feel intrusive to our sense of personal freedom.

Most campus crimes are theft-related, impacting property more than people — until you’re the person whose property is taken. Theft often can be prevented by paying attention and taking simple steps: Use security devices such as bicycle, door and window locks. Use window coverings to prevent an easy view into your home. Don’t leave things that matter to you unattended in public spaces; take your electronics, wallets, books and coats with you, even during short breaks.

Interpersonal crimes such as sexual assault, harassment, hazing and alcohol-related incidents, while fewer in number, have a far greater impact on the well-being of individuals and the health of our community — and like property theft, there are steps you can take to increase the safety of you and your fellow Cornellians:

Assault, Harassment and Bias-related Activity. Any act of discrimination, protected-status harassment, sexual harassment, sexual assault or violence undermines Cornell’s mission and commitment to inclusiveness by threatening the educational experience, work and well-being of us all. Our community must work together to create a culture where sexual assault, harassment, bias-related activity and violence of any kind are not tolerated. Educate yourself about the many cultures with which you will come in contact. Listen with a goal of understanding and treat each other with dignity, regardless of differences. Because there are those who will take advantage of people when they are vulnerable, do what you can to reduce your vulnerability: Move about with friends, or at least let them know where you are going and when you expect to be back. Walk on established, well-lighted pathways after dark; take advantage of our free Blue Light (late night) buses and walking escorts. Keep your head up, unplug and be aware of your surroundings; and use one of the many Blue Light phones within easy reach throughout campus when you feel unsafe or need assistance. Report harassing and discriminatory behaviors; don’t accept them.

Sexual Violence. From harassment to unwanted touching to rape, sexual violence occurs with disturbing frequency in society and on campuses across the country. People of all genders are victimized while in college. We welcome the national dialogue and new guidelines and laws from the federal government that support our own efforts to take a comprehensive approach to sexual violence prevention and response. We ask you to make yourself aware of these efforts: Watch out for one another. Step in or call for help — immediately —  any time you see behaviors that could put someone in harm’s way. To learn more about what Cornell is doing to prevent sexual violence on campus, how to report it, and where to get help, visit

High-Risk Drinking. Most students at Cornell drink moderately or not at all. The use of legal or illegal intoxicants (even in relatively small amounts) can impair one’s judgment and decision-making capabilities. Intoxicants can influence a normally law-abiding, thoughtful, kind and considerate person to perform embarrassing, potentially dangerous, or even criminal, acts. Maintain the integrity of your beverage of choice by keeping it with you at all times. If you set it down and lose sight of it, even for a moment, leave it. Don’t drink anything you have not poured or opened yourself. Drink only in moderation, if you drink at all, and do not use illegal drugs or abuse prescription medications. While people hold wide-ranging values about the use of alcohol and other drugs, at Cornell everyone is subject to the same Campus Code of Conduct and New York State Law. Here are the facts: The legal age for consuming alcoholic beverages in New York is 21. Providing alcohol to minors under the age of 21 is a criminal offense. New York has strict drinking and driving laws, and we have very active patrols to enforce them. If someone you know or run into has had too much to drink or appears to be experiencing some other medical condition needing attention, call 911 immediately to get them evaluated by trained medical personnel.

Hazing. Many of you will want to make the most of your college experience by joining a campus group, team or organization — and doing so should never pose a risk to your wellbeing. Most Cornell students, 82 percent, agree that “it’s never okay to intimidate or humiliate new group members.” Yet each year, some students experience physical and emotional harm because of hazing. If you or a friend experiences hazing, visit to learn more about resources for care and to file a report. Hazing has no place in the Cornell experience.

Contact Cornell Police. Be aware of your surroundings and report behavior that seems suspicious to you. If you see or hear activity that is questionable or possibly criminal in nature, call 911 right away. If you are unsure about the urgency of the situation, call 607-255-1111, and we will help you sort out your concerns, or assign an officer to meet with you. Other trusted leaders across campus can also connect you with resources for support and/or reporting, whether it’s a residence hall director, coach, professor or the Office of the University Ombudsman.

You are an important part of what makes Cornell a wonderful place to be, and you deserve to get the best out of your experience here. Help us keep our community as safe as possible. Check us out on Facebook, and read my short weekly safety messages to keep current on safety issues around campus. If you have any questions regarding the CUPD, or about what to do about a particular situation, please don’t hesitate to call us at 607-255-1111.

Kathy Zoner is the Chief of Cornell University Police. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.