College Health and Safety for Women

Going to college may be an exciting time for all age groups. It’s an opportunity for students to gain new knowledge and experiences, both inside and outside the classroom. Working together, students and institutions can take steps to ensure a safe and healthy college experience for all.

Tips for Students

Vaccinations

Two students in school wearing protective face masks

Two students in school wearing protective face masks

Getting vaccinated is a safe and effective way to stay healthy. The back-to-school season is also a great time to make sure that all recommended vaccinations are up to date, including the COVID-19 vaccine.  Contact your college’s medical services or student health department to learn what vaccinations are required before attending classes.

Check the Adult Vaccine Assessment Tool to learn about recommended vaccinations for adults based on age, health conditions, job, and other factors. Also visit vaccines.gov to find a COVID-19 vaccine location near campus.

Housing and Food

Students who cannot afford safe and stable housing, and those who may have trouble accessing enough healthy food options, can contact campus administrators and campus resource offices for assistance and help with locating housing and food resourcesexternal icon. Students should also check eligibility for national programs such as SNAP,external icon HUD,external icon and healthcare.govexternal icon for additional benefits.

Mental Health

College student speaks to school counselor

College student speaks to school counselor

As rewarding as college life can be, it can also be a stressful time for many students and families. Mental health is an important part of overall health and well-being and includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Generally, women are more likely to suffer from depression, and college aged women report more suicidal behaviors than college aged men. As growing concerns mount regarding the mental health of college students and it’s impacts on quality of life and academic success, it is important for students to manage mental health.

A few ways for students to manage stress external iconare to get enough sleep (7 to 8 hours a day), connect socially, and take time for relaxationexternal icon and self-care. Depression,pdf iconexternal icon if the mood lasts for a long time, can interfere with normal everyday functioning. Seek help from a medical or mental health professionalexternal icon if depressed or experiencing distress. Know someone who is thinking about suicide? Contact the 1−800−273−TALK (8255) to reach a 24−hour crisis center or dial 911. 1−800−273−TALK is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,external icon which provides free‚ confidential help to people in crisis.

Physical Activity

Physical activity is anything that gets your body moving. Adults need at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of physical activity each week. Getting physical activity can be a challenge and may require some planning,external icon however, it’s possible—and important—to be active even while keeping a physical distance of 6 feet. Physical activity reduces blood pressure and anxiety and helps with better sleep. It can also help to improve mood and energy level.

Menstrual Hygiene

Good menstrual hygiene practice is essential, yet many young women struggle each month to purchase menstrual hygiene products because of poverty. Also known as “period poverty,” women may struggle or not be able to access information and/or resources to manage their monthly cycles in a dignified way. Among women who reported experiencing period poverty every month, about two out of every three (68.1%) reported symptomsexternal icon of moderate or severe depression. Lack of access to affordable feminine hygiene products can force women to have to choose between food or period products each month. Students can visit the Better You Know websiteexternal icon to take the bleeding disorder risk assessment to better understand any bleeding symptoms.

Disabilities

Postsecondary education may offer both challenges and opportunities for women with disabilities. About 36 million women in the U.S. are living with a disability, a condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult to do certain activities and interact with the world around them. Support services are available on campus for students with disabilities to access services they may need.

Avoid Substance Abuse

Binge drinking is defined as having four or more drinks for women or five or more drinks for men over a short period of time. About 90% of the alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinks. Binge drinking is a factor that increases chances for risky sexual behavior, unintended pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, car crashes, violence, and alcohol poisoning. Learn more about alcohol use and women’s health.

Among cigarette smokers, almost all (99%) first tried smoking by the age of 26. And young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future. Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, causing many diseases and affecting the health of smokers in general. Quitting smoking has immediate as well as long-term benefits. For support in quitting, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).

Stay Safe

Sexual violence refers to sexual activity when consent is not obtained or not given freely, and it’s occurring on college campuses and in communities across the U.S. Approximately 1 in 5 (an estimated 25.5 million) women in the U.S. reported completed or attempted rape at some point in their life, with nearly 52.2 million women reported experiencing some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime. Women with a disability are at greater risk of experiencing rape than women without a disability. An estimated 2 in 5 (39%) female victims of rape had a disability at the time of the rape. The person responsible for the violence is typically male and usually someone known to the victim. Students should also be aware of other forms of violence such as stalking and psychological aggression.

Sex trafficking is a type of human trafficking external iconand is a form of modern-day slavery. Sex trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to make an adult engage in commercial sex acts. Learn how to recognize the signs of human trafficking by visiting the National Human Trafficking Hotline’s Recognizing the Signs website.external icon

If you or someone you know is being trafficked, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.external icon Call 1-888-373-7888 (TTY: 711) Text 233733

Students should know their rights and seek help immediately if they or someone they know is the victim of violence. Contact the campus or community police if your or someone else’s safety is threatened.

Prevent Sexually Transmitted Infections

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are common, especially among young people – about half of new infections are among those ages 15-24 years. STIs are treatable and many are curable. They are also preventable and there are ways to protect yourself and your partner(s). The most reliable way to avoid infection is to not have sex. If you do decide to have sex, you can get vaccinated against infections like HPV and you can use a condom from start to finish every time you have sex. You can also get tested to know if you have an infection, get treated, and prevent passing it to your partner(s).

For Colleges and Universities

Staff clean and disinfect classrooms while wearing protective masks

Staff clean and disinfect classrooms while wearing protective masks

Colleges and universities can play a critical role in ensuring students have access to available resources for a safe and healthy college experience. Administrators can help increase vaccine uptake among students, faculty, and staff by providing information about and offering COVID-19 and other vaccinations, promoting vaccine trust and confidence, and establishing supportive policies and practices that make getting vaccinated as easy and convenient as possible. Colleges and universities should also continue to facilitate health-promoting behaviors such as hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette to reduce the spread of infectious disease in general. CDC’s cleaning, disinfecting, and ventilation recommendations, including routine cleaning of high touch surfaces and shared objects, should continue to be followed.

Resources on Campuses

Campus wide promotions helps to ensure students are aware and able to navigate available resources such as food and housing, on and off campus, mental health services, and information on prevention of STDs. Colleges along with student organizations can work together to establish food pantry services, and connect students with local and community organizations, to provide additional resources as necessary. Policies and campus-wide programs that promote and provide support and services for menstrual hygiene information, and products available to students, can help bridge gaps in period poverty for women attending college.

Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities

students in classrooms working on laptops

Group of students in classrooms working on their laptops

It is essential that colleges and universities identify ways to remove barriers that affects people with disabilities. Common barriers include physical, social, and attitudinal factors that discourage people with disabilities to fully participate on college campuses. You can encourage all students, faculty, and staff to discuss any accommodations they might need with the campus disability resource center. This involves more than simply encouraging people; it requires making sure that adequate policies and practices are in effect and accessible to all students.

Prevent Sexual Violence

Adoptable and scalable approaches to prevent sexual violence on college campuses can include but not limited to promotion of social norms to protect against violence, the creation of protective environments, and support of victims by providing victim-centered approaches. Many individuals who have experienced human trafficking come into contact with healthcare and social service providers during and after their exploitation. The SOARexternal icon to Health and Wellness Training Program is designed to help identify and respond to those who are at risk of, are currently experiencing, or have experienced trafficking and connect them with the resources they need.

Learn more about women’s health by visiting CDC’s Office of Women’s Health (OWH) website. OWH promotes public health research, evidence-based programs, policies, and strategies to improve the health and safety of all women and girls while serving as a central point for women’s health and raises visibility of risk factors and other conditions that impact women’s health. OWH was established in 1994 and authorized by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010.

Page last reviewed: September 21, 2021