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There have also been cases of campuses being attacked and students killed, such as the Garissa University attack that claimed 148 lives.


Survival 101: A student’s guide to leaving college in one piece

On September 19, Prof Julius Nyabundi, the vice-chancellor of Maseno University, sat down with more than 7,400 first-year students who had joined the institution.

While welcoming them and encouraging them to study hard and achieve their goals, he stressed on their safety, saying, it had to start with the students themselves.

Like any other institution, Maseno University has had its challenges, including insecurity both inside and outside the campus, which is located on the equator in Kisumu County, with some parts stretching into Vihiga.

There have been cases of deaths, rapes, assaults and theft of property, an issue that has been of concern to students, the institution and the community.

Against this backdrop, the VC felt it prudent to sensitise the new students on their security at a time when the country is also grappling with terrorism and the associated radicalisation of young men and women.

Universities have often been targeted for radicalisation and terrorist recruitment. There have also been cases of campuses being attacked and students killed, such as the Garissa University attack that claimed 148 lives.

"You are advised to be wary of strangers or friends promising unsolicited benefits. Such approaches must be rejected and exposed,” said Prof Nyabundi.

The VC asked the students to remain vigilant and report suspicious behaviour, lifestyles and sudden wealth among them.

“Be wary of rich students as none of you is gainfully employed. Avoid free gifts including drinks given without proper justification,” said Prof Nyabundi.

He warned them against taking late night walks, attending funeral dances at night, watching late night English Premier League football games, living in unsafe neighbourhoods and associating with unsavoury characters.

The VC cautioned that, while it was good to respect and cooperate with locals, there are bad elements and they should always strive to keep good company and stay on the right side of the law.

Dr Owen McOnyango, the university’s Director of Public Relations, said the safety sensitisation programme would continue.

Dr Susan Gitau, a lecturer in counselling psychology at the African Nazarene University, said students should be aware of their physical surroundings and follow the rules of their respective institutions.

"Every student should always be aware of their surroundings and avoid unsafe areas at night for their own safety. At the same time, they should adhere to the time schedules set by the administration,”  Dr Gitau told Nation.

She said counselling, orientation and induction of new students should be thorough and involve everyone, including those who join campuses a little late.

She attributed rising cases of rape in hostels to, among other things, students not being aware of their surroundings and not knowing their boundaries.

“Avoid unnecessary invitations to strangers’ rooms. Students should also avoid indulging in drugs, alcohol and unhealthy relationships,” said the lecturer, who is also the director of the Susan Gitau Counselling Foundation.

On cases of students being attacked and even killed at night in various universities, Dr Andrew Gitau Kimani, a security expert with a PhD in security studies, advised that, when students are alone, they should only use headphones in one ear to stay aware of their surroundings.

"Do not walk along routes that are not well-lit. Always walk in groups and try to use well-travelled routes and avoid being alone with someone you don't know or trust," said Dr Kimani, who is also a lecturer at Murang’a University.

He said if something is not urgent that requires studying or staying out late, students should avoid it and do it the next day.

He also advised students not to leave expensive jewellery or other items on display, which could make them a target for theft or harm. If cornered by attackers, the security expert advised, students should fight with whatever they have and flee at the slightest opportunity.

Dr Kimani, however, raised pertinent questions about the security awareness and preparedness of various institutions to deal with emerging security issues within their premises.

He told Nation that most of them lack security manuals to guide them on how to deal with security issues as well as clear communication strategies including panic buttons, hotline numbers and emergency alarms.

He said security experts should be brought in to train university and college administrators on security and safety and there should be internal plans for dealing with threats. The institutions, he said, should conduct security drills to prepare students and staff.

Dr Kimani expressed dissatisfaction with access controls in some of the universities, saying, security guards manning gates sometimes ignore some checks, especially on vehicles with government registration numbers.