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A Girl’s Guide to Being Safe in New York City (& Beyond!)

By this point in our college careers, many of us may have come to identify with Princess Giselle from Enchanted, who had a rude wake up call to the realities of New York City. The movie actually portrayed something very relatable — New York City is not the storybook place that Giselle, and many of us, were expecting. The transition from safe, small towns to a big, unruly city can be difficult — who can you trust? What precautions should you take? Here are some of our best tips and tricks to safely adjust to your new community!

Establish a safety net of friends.

Find at least two friends (preferably including a roommate or someone who lives on your floor) who you would feel comfortable sharing your location with on the “Find My Friends” app. This ensures that at least one person always knows where you are. The safest way to enjoy nightlife in college is to go out (and return) in groups. It’s a good idea to establish a group chat so friends can all alert one another when they get home safe!

Always stand behind the yellow line when waiting for the subway.

Although this seldom occurs, people have accidentally fallen onto the track, or even been pushed onto them. Always be aware of your surroundings and stay alert.

Walk around with your ID in a secure and concealed place.

If you must take identification with you, secure it in a wallet or bag. Also, when returning home or going on vacation during breaks, be sure to place a piece of tape over your address on luggage while traveling. 

Create a distraction for thieves.

If someone ever attempts to mug or pickpocket you, throw your valuables away from your body and then run in the opposite direction; odds are, the thief is more interested in your valuables than you. The important thing is that you never risk your life by protecting material objects.

If listening to music while walking around, make sure that you can still hear your surroundings.

Be acutely aware of your senses, especially sound, and anything happening in the environment around you. Many of us love listening to music, but getting distracted by it can prevent us from being aware. 

Never be afraid to ask for help from a public safety or police officer, especially if you feel like you are being followed or stalked.

Other options include stepping into a bodega, restaurant, or store to escape; Columbia has established a network of safe businesses that will protect students who come in because they are in danger or in trouble. Look for The Red Lion, the logo for Columbia’s Public Safety Safe Haven program which appears in over 130 businesses around Columbia’s Morningside Heights, Manhattanville, and Medical Center campuses. Some examples of Red Lion businesses include Tom’s Restaurant, Apple Tree Supermarket, Community Food & Juice, Haagen-Dazs, Koronet Pizza, and University Hardware. Save these numbers in your phone so you are always prepared:

Columbia University Public Safety can be contacted at (212) 854-2797.

Barnard Public Safety can be contacted at (212) 854-3362.

Sexual Violence Response can be contacted at (212) 854-4357.

Before going out, map out how you are getting to your destination and then home afterwards.

This is important in ensuring that you don’t get lost or end up wandering in an unfamiliar part of the city, and that you don’t have to depend on anyone or anything (such as your phone, which can get lost or run out of battery). In addition, try to travel in groups, especially late at night and/or in unfamiliar areas.

Don’t engage with strangers on the street.

Whether it is someone catcalling you, asking you for money, or offering you drugs, don’t give anyone the attention that they seek; to ensure your safety, avoid interaction and keep walking.

Try to run or exercise around the city during daylight.

If you do choose to do this when it’s dark, go out with a friend. Also, Dodge Fitness Center on Columbia’s campus is open most weeknights until midnight. It is fully equipped with treadmills, ellipticals, an indoor track, and other exercise equipment!

While this information may seem overwhelming, don’t stress! For now focus on easing into your new surroundings, and gradually you will become familiar with these situations. Above all, trust your intuition!

Claire Lempert

Columbia Barnard '23

is a sophomore at Barnard studying economics, psychology, and English. She loves exploring NYC, running, writing, and creating dioramas.
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