Campus move in is a time students (and most parents) look forward to in anticipation of what the coming school year will bring. Students relish the idea of freedom and time away from the watchful eye of parents. But parents, before you hug your son or daughter goodbye, make sure you tell your student to beware of the Red Zone and have important conversations to help keep them safe from harm and out of trouble.
What Is the Red Zone?
What exactly is the Red Zone? The Red Zone refers to a six to ten-week period, from arrival on campus in August to Thanksgiving break in November, when there is a significant increase in sexual assault. According to one article, more than 50% of campus sexual assaults happen during this period of time, typically between midnight and 6 a.m. on the weekends. What risk factors lead to this spike in sexual assault? Many students away from home for the first time aren’t used to their newfound freedom. Some students are struggling with anxiety and finding their real group of friends. Other students are engaging in binge drinking and experimenting with drugs.
The Pandemic’s Impact on the Red Zone
Experts predict that this school year, with a tapering of social distancing protocols and Covid-19 regulations, restless students are particularly eager to rejoin the college party scene. Let’s face it, last school year left most college students sorely disappointed about the lack of socialization. For rising sophomores, even though they are returning to campus, they didn’t really enjoy the full “college experience” last year, and they lack experience navigating complicated social situations. While freshman are traditionally most at risk during the Red Zone, this year is different. Tracey Vitchers, executive director of It’s On Us said it perfectly in an interview with CNN: “We have this situation where we have first-year students coming to campus who we know are traditionally most vulnerable during the Red Zone, but we also have returning sophomores who might academically be in their second year, but are truly in their first-year experience because they did not have a first-year social experience. There’s this idea of making up for lost time.” Translation? This year’s Red Zone is predicted to be even riskier than normal.
The Five Conversations You Need to Have with Your Child Before They Leave for College
So, what specific topics should parents discuss with their students heading into the Red Zone? Here’s a list for parents to help start the conversation:
1. Safe Partying
Being safe doesn’t mean being boring. Teach your son or daughter to go out in groups, not alone, and never leave a party without telling others where you’re going and who you’ll be with. Never accept a drink in an open cup without seeing what is poured in the drink. Also, keep an eye out for friends by being an active bystander. Help someone who may be in danger or who is simply making unsafe choices. Drunken hookups expose students to more than hurt feelings or embarrassment.
Additionally, parents must tell students that alcohol, prescription drugs and street drugs do not mix. While this is an obvious point to make to students, it nonetheless must be discussed.
Generally speaking, consent is permission to engage in sexual activity, given through words and actions. Consent must be provided at each increment of sexual activity, and consent to past sexual activity doesn’t confer consent for future sexual activity. Also, a person cannot provide consent when incapacitated, and the absence of a “no” does not mean “yes.” Make sure your student reads the school’s Title IX policy and understands the definition of consent.
3. Campus Code of Conduct:
When was the last time parents reviewed a school’s policies with their student? For that matter, when was the last time parents read the code of conduct at all? For most parents, the honest answer is NEVER. However, reading the policy is important. Should something go awry and a student is accused of a student conduct violation, the college will proceed by following its policy. Just like ignorance of the law is no excuse – ignorance of a campus code of conduct is also no excuse.
4. Cheating and Plagiarism
Cheating and plagiarism allegations skyrocketed during the pandemic; we have defended many, and we mean many, students accused of cheating. Somehow, students took risks while learning remotely that they would never have done if they were in class, not realizing that colleges use software to detect online cheating. Don’t be tempted to go on Chegg or other homework assistance service sites and ask a question during an examination. Colleges are well aware that students use these platforms to extract test responses, and Chegg will respond to university inquiries about a particular student. Note – just like students should familiarize themselves with their college code of conduct, they should read the fine print on platforms that they use, also.
5. Mental Health
All parents should have conversations with their students about mental health before their student steps foot on a college campus. College is a time of significant stress, change and “high highs and low, lows.” We have also seen that many mental health issues have become worse since having to quarantine. In fact, one study reports that student mental health since the pandemic has become a top focus for higher education since there is a recognition that students are really struggling. Indeed, one in three college freshmen worldwide reports having a mental health disorder.
Additional Considerations for Students With Academic Accommodations
For those students who have had a Section 504 or IEP plan for mental health issues and received accommodations, they should register with their new school’s office of disabilities and continue those accommodations. It is better to have support early on rather than struggle unnecessarily – especially when colleges and universities have the ability to provide support and accommodations if needed.
More on Mental Health
Parents should also talk with their students about signs of mental health struggles with their students, and what the plan should be if some added support is necessary. For those students who talk to a therapist at home, continued therapy can be accomplished virtually. We recommend that those students touch base with their therapist as they are getting settled into school, even if it is a quick session just to continue a relationship and say that everything is going well. For those students who do not have a regular therapist, make sure that the student knows how to schedule an appointment with a mental health provider on campus. In our experience, we see that sometimes when a student is depressed, they become overwhelmed and fail to figure out how to navigate a university’s mental health resources.
Parents should also open up about any particular mental health risks in their family. Mental health issues often surface once students leave their home and lifelong friends. It’s okay to let students know if either or both parents also struggled during that time. Help these students understand that if they are struggling, they should call home, full stop. Students should not suffer alone.
Further – and we cannot emphasize enough how important this conversation is for parents to have with their college-bound children – students must be told to stay compliant with any medications they are on. Starting college is not the time to forget to take antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication. For those students who have ADD or ADHD, compliance becomes more important when the workload of college demands more than high school.
Parents: Don’t Underestimate Your Influence
There is intrinsic value in having the voice of parents ring in their head when they are at college and confronted with various temptations. Even when parents’ admonishments are not necessarily followed all of the time, they are heard and present even when parents are physically far away. The bottom line? Parents should never underestimate their influence and power, which can be critical to help ensure a safe and enjoyable college experience for their student – through the Red Zone and beyond.
For further questions or clarifications regarding the context of this article, please contact KJK Student & Athlete Defense attorneys Susan Stone (SCS@kjk.com; 216.736.7220) or Kristina Supler (KWS@kjk.com; 216.736.7217).