Toronto is an awesome city – point blank. Going to school here is a life-changing experience. I could go on and on about the unbelievable food, event and shopping locations, the massive arts and culture scene and incredible internship opportunities, I really could.
But, I know that the one thing on a student’s (and parent’s) mind before choosing to live, study and work in downtown is…
As a kid who grew up on the TTC, and one who actively chose to live in the downtown core during my time at Ryerson, I’ve amassed a few tips and tricks for feeling and keeping safe in this big, unpredictable city.
1. Independence comes with responsibility
In general, it’s important to understand that your newfound independence also comes with a great deal of responsibility. Toronto is a big city, and things do happen – but a great deal of your experience can be managed by your choices and actions. Here are a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to personal safety:
- DON’T fall asleep in public areas
- DO keep your personal items within arms’ reach
- DON’T react when you see an altercation on the street
- DO keep your OneCard close to access school buildings after hours
- DON’T take shortcuts on walks home
Additional note: your safety is ALWAYS more important than your material possessions. If it comes to you or your phone, drop the phone. It can be replaced – you can’t be.
2. Know your safety resources
Ryerson is equipped to deal with the inner workings of safety in the city. One of the university-wide initiatives you’ll see in your time at Ryerson is security incident emails. You’ll see these in your inbox as a precaution for your personal safety, as well as to encourage reporting incidents and transparency on behalf of the university. You can opt-out of these emails at any time.
The WalkSafe program is another great resource for students, particularly those who are new to the city or who have evening classes. At any time, you can call WalkSafe (416-979-5040 – just keep their number on speed dial!) and a uniformed officer will escort you to and from anywhere on campus.
Finally, campus emergency poles and phones are located throughout the campus. Simply call or press the emergency button to be put in touch with someone who can help you if you ever feel unsafe.
3. Stay aware of your surroundings
Of course, following traffic signs and looking both ways before crossing the street is important here – but beyond that, keeping your eyes and ears open while walking is the foundation of safety downtown. If you’re walking through an area that makes you uneasy, being hyper-aware of your surroundings and what your next move might be is the key to staying and feeling safe. Keep your eyes off of your phone, your music turned down low, and your feet moving!
4. Walk in groups when possible
‘Safety in numbers’ isn’t just something you hear people say! It’s totally true that walking in a group makes you less of a target for any issue on the street, whether it’s theft, harassment or a potentially violent act. Even if a problem should arise, having people around to speak up, protect, or call for help for others is a surefire tenant of street smarts.
Here are some tips:
- Establish a buddy system when you and your friends go to parties or clubs (once you’re legal, of course!) so that no one is alone
- Find a walking group to head to the subway with early in the year
- Ask people what residence buildings they live in so you have someone to walk home with (and potentially a new friend!)
- If you don’t have someone available to walk with you, call a WalkSafe (mentioned above)
5. Headphones, headphones, headphones
I know I suggested that you keep your ears peeled when you’re out in public, but visibly wearing headphones or earbuds tells the world: “I am closed for business.” It’s a perfect excuse to ignore someone who might be harassing you on the subway, and in general, makes you less of a target. The key here is that you are appearing to be distracted and unavailable, so a similar strategy might be opening a book or playing a game on your phone. In essence… become invisible!
6. Confidence is key
The best way to overcome fear is from within. I know sometimes you might feel vulnerable to the great big world you live in, but I promise that over time, you will adjust to your new reality. The absolute best piece of advice I can give you is to keep your head up, and say to the world, “I am not afraid of you, Toronto!”
Except… maybe don’t say that out loud. You don’t want people to avoid you on the streets, too.