Students feel safe with their cell phone

Nicole Stempak

Credit: DKS Editors

Cell phones make college students feel safer and cause them to take more risks, according to a recent study.

The results, announced last month, recognize the benefits of having a cell phone, from calling for help to reporting a threat or crime. But the perceived feeling of safety associated with cell phones may lead students to participate in risky behavior, such as walking alone at night.

“What we’re essentially talking about is cell phone behavior and how they affect student safety,” said study researcher Richard Wener, a professor of environmental psychology at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, N.Y. “What we found was that . there are several ways in which having and using a cell phone can negatively affect your safety.”

Wener, Jack Nasar at Ohio State University and Peter Hecht of Temple University in Philadelphia based their study on two surveys of about 300 students each from Ohio State University in 2001 and 2002. The first survey found most students reported having a mobile phone and that it made students feel safer at night. A follow-up survey found of the students who had a mobile phone, approximately 40 percent would walk somewhere they normally would not without the phone.

Because students are more confident, Wener said, they may walk somewhere less safe and, in effect, increase their risk of being hurt, attacked or mugged.

Alice Ickes, crime prevention officer for Kent State Police, said the department always tries to be aware of the idea that a person’s perception is their reality.

“One of the things that contributes to a feeling of fear or vulnerability is that sense of being alone and isolated,” she said. “A cell phone alleviates that because you can immediately contact someone.”

Officer Kelly Given for Kent State Police said she sees why students take more risks with cell phones since they can always rely on it.

Say there are two different paths for students to get to their dorm, Given said. One is well-lit and a little longer. The other is quicker, but by some trees and not as well-lit.

“If (students) have their cell phone to call the police if they need help, I think they probably are more willing to take the shorter, less-traveled path just to get there quicker,” she said. “In essence, that is taking more of a risk because they’re relying more on the cell phone as a source of protection whether it is or not.”

Wener noted crime rates may be higher in a metropolitan area, but he isn’t sure that assumption can be applied to cell phone safety.

“In almost any place you could be these days, you have to pay attention to where you’re going and what you’re doing,” Wener said. “These things may be more appropriate or make more sense in a big city than in a small town, but I’m not sure it’s such a big difference. We actually haven’t looked at that systematically, and we certainly haven’t looked at that from a research point of view.”

Michisha Gravely, freshman justice studies major, said talking with someone on her cell phone makes her feel safer about walking somewhere that seems unnerving.

“If you have a phone with you, then it’s like having somebody there without having someone actually there talking to you,” she said.

The danger, however, of students talking on a cell phone is being less aware of their surroundings, said officer John Ditrick for Kent State Police.

“We’ve seen that before; they’re just walking and talking on their cell phones and not really paying attention to what’s around them,” Ditrick said.

It’s more than students paying attention to their surroundings, Ickes said. It’s about following their instincts.

“If you know or sense that you are in a dangerous place, then you should avoid it,” she said.

But Caresta Simpson, freshman child psychology major, can’t avoid it. Simpson said she has to walk by a dark corner on her way to her residence hall in the First Year Experience complex.

“Yesterday, I was walking and I was thinking . somebody could be in the corner-you never know,” she said. “That’s a good time to have my phone.”

Erin Bishop, sophomore interior design major can relate. She lived in the First Year Experience last year and regularly had to walk back from the design studio in the Gym Annex late at night.

Bishop said she carried her cell phone in case something would happen, although she never felt unsafe.

“The big picture is that it’s not going to take the risk out of a dangerous situation, but it should provide some comfort as well as that resource of being able to contact someone if you slip and fall or are on your way to class and decide you want an escort,” Ickes said.

Still, Gravely doesn’t think that students should have to carry their cell phones to feel safe.

“On a college campus, you should feel safe whether it’s nighttime or daytime,” she said.

Contact general assignment reporter Nicole Stempak at [email protected].