How to Stay Safe When Everyone’s Protesting

Seven tips for student self-protection in the wake of increasingly out-of-control campus events

This week’s protest at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, was only the latest campus protest to take a dangerous turn after outside activists showed up.

Conservative writer and scholar Charles Murray had been invited to speak — but chaos quickly ensued when he was on stage. In addition to pulling fire alarms, protesters physically attacked the professor, who was moderating the event.

“I feared for my life,” political science professor Allison Stanger posted on her Facebook page. She was later diagnosed with a concussion.

“These tips are something to build into students’ day when they’re in an unfamiliar situation.”

If you have a child in college, you might not understand what it’s like to be a student at a time in which many forces, some of them dark, are attempting to sow discord and anarchy across the nation.

“It’s a concern when you send your children away to college, and it should be a wonderful experience for everyone — but it also has hazards and risks associated with it that you really need to be aware of,” William H. Besse, vice president of Consulting, Investigations & International for Andrews International, told LifeZette. Andrews International, headquartered in Los Angeles, California, staffs educational institutions with security personnel.

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“College campuses have changed since many parents have been on them,” Besse noted.

Your child may be simply attempting to attend an event on-campus, such as a talk by a conservative speaker. Your student may show up to a protest to show support for the other side of the argument, such as at a Planned Parenthood rally, for example; she may attend with others to provide a pro-life presence. Whatever the reasons for attending — safety is paramount.

Here are some vital guidelines to pass onto your son or daughter that could make all the difference if things turn ugly during a march, protest, or event:

1.) Scope it out beforehand. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, you can often get advance word about outsiders’ plans to rouse a peaceful gathering into something much louder — and more dangerous. If your child knows ahead of time that, say, school buses are on the way, odds are good the agenda has grown beyond whatever initially prompted the turnout.

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“A lot of these organizers are using social media,” said Besse. “There might be a lot of notices posted around the campus and discussions taking place, but on social media there may be other discussions going on — things that are not so apparent.”

2.) Keep your goals in mind. Whether your child’s point of contention is an unjust policy, a disagreeable speaker, or the school’s response to an event, it’s not inappropriate to ask him what he would like to happen. Also pose this question: How far are you willing to go to achieve this? Vocal demands could result in a meeting with administrators and, depending on the parties involved, lead to a peaceful resolution. But if the event turns into a riot, listening time is over.

3.) Expect surprises. No matter what your child knows going into a rally for a given cause, multiple parties with myriad other complaints can make things unpredictable. For that, your child should consider worst cases: people getting hurt, perhaps even killed — and police making mass arrests. It might not happen, but in these times of organized resistance, you can’t be sure.

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“Be careful about where you’re positioning yourself,” advised Besse. “You don’t want to be in a huge crowd where you could get caught up and maybe misidentified as someone who’s causing a problem.”

4.) Go with friends. If your student knows others who’ll also be part of the protest, she should plan to go with them and, if possible, stay together. These companions should discuss their own thoughts about the event — and to agree beforehand, for instance, not to antagonize the police. Traveling as a group also adds eyes and ears, since not everyone would notice signs the event is getting out of control, such as the sudden arrival of people who don’t look like students.

5.) Travel lightly. Once a crowd gets especially turbulent, it’s easy for anyone to lose track of a pocketbook or other personal item. In addition to dressing for the weather and wearing comfortable shoes, your student should carry as little as possible: a fully charged cellphone, some pocket cash, and any vital medications. Amid the activities, after all, it’s easy for your child to find himself in front of police just as they’re rounding up rioters.

6.) Know your rights — and the limits on them. If police do arrive and start making arrests, your child should know how to keep a brief visit to the local authorities from turning into formal charges. Your child can legally take photos or video but should not get in the face of police as she does so. If addressed, she should speak respectfully, keep her hands in plain view with no sudden movements, and avoid resistance.

7.) Make an escape plan. For a child away from home for the first time, being part of something historic has a powerful draw. But the intensity of such events often brings out the worst in people — perhaps including your own child. “Wherever you are in the world, if you see people with masks, it’s probably not a good thing,” said Besse.

Know when to abandon the plan, too. “Should the crowd begin to attack individuals, smash windows and other property, or resist police instructions, any goals the students began with are unattainable, at least for now,” said Besse. “Your children should prearrange where to meet friends they accompanied to the protest, somewhere away from the action.”

He added, “We tell people they need to have their heads on a swivel, to focus not only at what’s in front of them but also what’s behind and to the sides. Look around and listen, too. It’s not something they need to dwell on, just something to build into their day when they’re in an unfamiliar situation.”

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