Tips for staying safe on campus at night

“What are you most afraid of when running alone?” For the women ISUPD Officer Allison Bell runs with, it’s being kidnapped, raped or killed.


Iowa State offers campus safety resources such as SafeRide and ISU Guardian.

It was sophomore year of high school, and a 15-year-old girl was driving to school. She noticed when she stopped at a stoplight that a man in the car behind her was staring at her. She thought it was strange but did not think much of it.

After he turned the same way she did a few times, she realized that he was following her.

Yvette Guerrero, now 20, is from Hobart, Indiana, and attends Indiana University-Bloomington. She plans to attend Iowa State University in the fall.

“I was scared out of my mind; every turn I would take he would do the same,” Guerrero said. “It felt horrible, but I knew I was safe in my car. I did inform the police department, and they helped me with the situation.”

Guerrero was in her car, but oftentimes people don’t have that barrier protecting them from attackers in public. Nearly 9 out of 10 women fear walking alone, especially at night, according to Newstalk.

Carrie Jacobs, the assistant chief of police for Iowa State University police, has a fellow officer who is a runner and training for a marathon. The officer, Allison Bell, has asked her fellow runners “What are you most afraid of when running alone?”

Every woman Bell has asked has responded by saying their biggest fear of running alone is being kidnapped, raped or killed, Jacobs said. Out of all the men, Bell has asked, none of them said anything related to being kidnapped, raped or killed.

Brody Norton, a graduate student studying anthropology, is the campus safety coordinator at the Iowa State University Department of Public Safety. Norton was in the Army and worked in security capacities with law enforcement before attending Iowa State.

“Communication is always the best way to start being safe,” Norton said. “Making sure people know where you are, what you’re doing, why you’re there and when you expect to not be doing it anymore.”

Iowa State has a few different services they provide to assist students in keeping themselves safe. The first of those is SafeRide, which provides services from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. every day.

Students, faculty and staff can request a ride through the SafeRide app or by calling 515-294-4444.

“It’s intended for use for students that live on campus to have access to a safe ride home, to and from class, to and from dormitories or to and from spaces around campus,” Norton said.

The SafeRide vehicles are driven by campus safety ambassadors (CSA’s), which are student representatives of ISU police. Although it is called SafeRide, they are able to provide walking services as well.

ISU Guardian is another resource, which allows users to walk with a virtual guardian. A lot of people have their roommate, a friend or significant other be their guardian, but users can also have ISU Police Dispatch be their guardian.

The app prompts users to set a time they expect to get to their destination. Once that time is up, a notification is sent that reads: ‘Have you arrived at your destination or do you need 9-1-1?’”

“[Users] can assign friends and family and people that they’re comfortable with to help them care for their safety instead of having to rely solely on a stranger,” Norton said.

“Stranger danger” is a common phrase that is taught to young people. Jacobs shared that as a woman, she has been taught ‘don’t go out at night by yourself,’ ‘walk with friends’ or ‘make sure you’re walking with a male friend.’

Jacobs also recommends people keep their heads up, walk with purpose and avoid looking like a victim to stay safe while walking alone at night.

“One of the best personal defense mechanisms that is out there is still going to be a good awareness of your surroundings,” Jacobs said. “Your most reliable weapons that you can have are your voice, your fists and your feet. People forget that.”

For people who do decide to carry some sort of self defense, Jacobs recommends having it somewhere easily accessible, or even better, already in hand.

Common self-defense items include keychain alarms and pepper spray. However, Jacobs encourages pepper spray users to expose themselves to the chemical ahead of time because they are likely to get some on them while using it in an emergency.

Though anybody can be targeted at night, women are more likely to carry and own self-defense items.

“It can happen to everyone, but unfortunately for women, we always have this in the back of our heads,” Jacobs said.

Norton shared his perspective on how women may react to seeing a man walking in the dark.

“I’m not a particularly large person, I don’t think that I’m scary,” Norton said. “But, I have a beard, I stand tall, I have broad shoulders and I walk very straight. If I’m walking towards someone at night, the idea might be that I’m somebody that’s a threat to them, and I can definitely understand that.”

As an older Iowa State student, Norton expressed that it was hard to meet people. He sat with a guy in one of his classes in the dining hall one day and expressed that he noticed people would cross the street to get away from him on his walks to and from class.

Norton said his classmate told him he looked like he always wanted to hurt somebody.

“I think my personality is the furthest from that as possible,” Norton said. “But, that’s not necessarily the vibe that I’m always giving off, and that’s not a conscious thing that I’m doing. It’s just how I look.”

Norton believes many men do not recognize that they appear threatening to others. However, he also believes some men intentionally make themselves seem dangerous.

“Sadly, I think that there are a lot of men who do give off that vibe intentionally because they want to seem like they’re strong,” Norton said. “They don’t want to be a victim, so they have to make themselves appear to be a threat.”

Boys and men receive safety tips less often than women because they are less likely to be considered a target, according to Jacobs. However, she encourages the community to avoid the gender stereotypes often associated with crime and violence.

“It’s very important, particularly for students, faculty and staff, to realize anybody can be a victim of a crime,” Jacobs said.

Campus safety resources include the following:

ISU Police non-emergency number: 515-294-4428


ISU Guardian

Free self-defense course