Warning: Colleges may be responsible for Airbnb, Uber safety

Safety expert says shared services economy, ease of travel present new safety challenges for colleges and universities.

Troubling Incidents

Outside of on-campus shootings, a number of shared services-related safety incidents have popped up around the world, many of which happen to often-inexperienced young people. One recent example happened to a 19 year-old traveling in Madrid. The teen was allegedly locked inside an Airbnb owner’s house and then sexually abused. Without options, the alleged victim texted his mother in the U.S. When the mother called Airbnb, the company told her to contact local police. By the time the police were sent, the alleged assault had already occurred.

There are also numerous troubling reports of assaults occurring in Uber and Lyft rides.

But is it an institution’s responsibility to provide protection for students using these shared services domestically and abroad?

According to Hutton, it can’t hurt to be proactive. In fact, understanding the risks associated with the shared services economy could, in the long run, help institutions better prevent all safety emergencies, he explained.

“We like to think of it on a macro framework level, or umbrella view,” he noted. “Meaning that, in general, more companies and institutions across the U.S. are implementing the mentality of ‘A duty of care’ –they’re moving toward commonly accepted safety practices for their traveling employees, or in this case, the higher education community’s students.”

It’s a Mixed Bag

On Call, which serves 30 academic clients with services available to more than 750,000 academic members, says that the number of interested higher education clients in the company’s security and emergency assistance services has been rising lately due to these in-the-national-spotlight safety incidents.

But it’s difficult to picture the higher education safety landscape, says Hutton, because safety protocols span a broad range.

“Some institutions have a full-time safety and security director, but there are also those that are really struggling with how to envision and implement these new safety procedures. A large subset for this struggling group is figuring out how to keep study abroad and extension program students safe.”

The confusion, he explains, stems from two points: Figuring out shared responsibility across a number of organizations (the student’s field of study department, the main campus, local police chiefs, the shared service, etc.); and the lack of in-house consensus in what constitutes an institution’s legal student safety responsibilities when it comes to travel abroad and off-campus technologies.

“For example, one of On Call’s clients, a large university in Philly, had me take them through the offerings of our company, as well as our advice. There were 17 stakeholders in the room, and all with different points of view in training, the pillars of campus safety, and the services the institution should provide!” he exclaimed. “These are all good intentions in terms of legality and student safety, but it’s a challenge to gain consensus.”

(Next page: What colleges and universities can do/should know)