NEWS

Virginia Tech Massacre Leads to New Safety Nets on Campuses

By Matthew Harwood

A year has passed since Seung-Hui Cho gunned down 32 students and then shot himself at Virginia Tech. Since that tragic day, campuses across the country have invested in or strengthened behavioral threat assessment teams, to identify at risk students before they hurt themselves or others, USA Today reports.

Colleges are trying to reduce the chances of violence by creating or beefing up risk assessment teams that typically include faculty, residence advisers, psychologists, administrators and police, college administrators say. The teams meet often to review reports on students who seem disturbed. The reports are submitted by professors, residence advisers, police and students.

About 20% of colleges had assessment teams before the Virginia Tech murders, says Keith Anderson, a veteran counselor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. "Now I don't know any college that hasn't either created a team or strengthened the one they had," [Gwendolyn] Dungy [executive director of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators] says.

At-risk students generally show signs of disturbed behavior, as Cho did, and behavioral threat assessment teams provide a centralized place for concerned individuals to lodge a report and enable a coordinated response.

The article reports that awareness of student psychological problems on campus has grown over the past decade or so. Surveys show that students diagnosed with depression have grown from 10 percent in 2001 to 15 percent in 2007. Another survey reports that the number of students on psychiatric drugs showing up at campus counseling centers has increased by 14 percent since 1994.

It's important to remember, however, that while disturbed students have lashed out violently, the most common problem colleges have to deal with is a student's rage turned inward, the terminal point being suicide.

Since the Virginia Tech tragedy, more professors are consulting counseling centers about "students of concern," according to a new survey of counseling center directors. Typically, students welcome the attention of a professor who cares, said Joan Whitney, counseling center director at Villanova University.

For more on behavioral threat assessment teams—their history, formation, and purpose—read Security Management's April cover article, "Teaming Up to Reduce Risk."

The New York Times, meanwhile, has created a blog for discussion of the more contentious issues Virginia Tech provoked, such as whether guns on campus could prevent another massacre, and whether increased security policies and practices have made campuses safer .

As Richard L. Canas, director of  New Jersey's State Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, blogged, "I don’t know if we are 'safer' today, but I know that we are better prepared, informed and very concerned about national trends and patterns that scream at us to be more vigilant."

 

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