Schools seek aid to track trou­ble

Af­ter Tuc­son, more are re­fin­ing pro­ce­dures

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Oren Dorell USA TO­DAY

Col­lege mental health work­ers re­port greater con­cern about dis­rup­tive stu­dents since the mass shoot­ing in Tuc­son, re­sult­ing in more calls from fac­ulty, re­quests for spe­cial train­ing and re­assess­ments of cam­pus pro­ce­dures.

Fac­ulty mem­bers are seek­ing ad­vice on deal­ing with dis­rup­tive out­bursts and in­tim­i­dat­ing be­hav­ior, says Brian Van Brunt, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Col­lege Coun­sel­ing As­so­ci­a­tion.

Jared Lough­ner, 22, is ac­cused of shoot­ing Rep. Gabrielle Gif­fords and 18 other peo­ple, six fa­tally, Jan. 8. He was at­tend­ing Pima Com­mu­nity Col­lege in Novem­ber when he was banned from cam­pus for out­bursts that scared stu­dents and teach­ers.

At Western Ken­tucky Uni­ver­sity, where Van Brunt is di­rec­tor of coun­sel­ing, staffers “are look­ing at what would we do if we had a sim­i­lar case,” he says. His uni­ver­sity has three or four stu­dents a year who ex­hibit a wor­ri­some com­bi­na­tion of self-iso­la­tion and sim­mer­ing ag­gres­sion, he says, and they’re re­quired to ac­cept treat­ment on cam­pus as a con­di­tion of stay­ing in school.

Sev­eral schools are ex­pand­ing mental health ser­vices by mak­ing part-time coun­selors full-time or adding pri­vate coun­selors, says Brett Sokolow of the Na­tional Be­hav­ioral In­ter­ven­tion Team As­so­ci­a­tion.

Many col­leges added be­hav­ioral in­ter­ven­tion teams af­ter the Vir­ginia Tech shoot­ing in 2007, when stu­dent Se­ung Hui Cho killed 33 peo­ple, in­clud­ing him­self. Usu­ally, a team of coun­selors, teach­ers and cam­pus po­lice meets reg­u­larly to track com­plaints about dis­turb­ing be­hav­ior from in­struc­tors, dor­mi­tory work­ers and oth­ers. The team as­sesses the threat and co­or­di­nates ac­tion.

Mem­ber­ship in the as­so­ci­a­tion jumped 14% to 578 schools since the Ari­zona shoot­ing.

Book­ings for train­ing rose from 16 schools in all of De­cem­ber to 17 in the first 10 days af­ter the shoot­ing, says Scott Lewis of the Na­tional Cen­ter for Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Risk Man­age­ment, a law firm that ad­vises col­leges on in­ter­ven­tion teams.

Gas­ton Col­lege in Dal­las, N.C., hired Lewis be­fore the shoot­ing to dis­cuss be­hav­ioral in­ter­ven­tion teams. Now a team is more likely to be­come a re­al­ity, says Wanda Wy­ont, di­rec­tor of re­ten­tion.

“We’re all go­ing to take more cau­tion and maybe de­velop pro­ce­dures that would help us iden­tify be­hav­ior that could be a prob­lem,” Wy­ont says.

At Truc­kee Mead­ows Com­mu­nity Col­lege in Reno, coun­selors are mak­ing a video to re­mind staff to re­fer stu­dents who hint of sui­cide or vi­o­lence to coun­sel­ing, or call po­lice if dan­ger looms, says Estela Gu­tier­rez, di­rec­tor of coun­sel­ing.

At Jack­son Com­mu­nity Col­lege in Jack­son, Mich., a stu­dent was taken for a hos­pi­tal eval­u­a­tion and banned from cam­pus Jan. 14 af­ter rant­ing at a stu­dent ad­vo­cate, says Cindy Allen, di­rec­tor of com­mu­nity re­la­tions. The stu­dent was al­lowed back last week, she says, af­ter a dean “made sure he un­der­stood that . . . you shouldn’t make state­ments that can be mis­con­strued as threat­en­ing.”

RICH­MOND, Ky. — No one gath­ered around the con­fer­ence ta­ble here is point­ing fin­gers at Pima Com­mu­nity Col­lege.

As the staffers at East­ern Ken­tucky Uni­ver­sity who step in when stu­dents show signs of trou­ble, they know first­hand the chal­lenges of deal­ing with some­one like Jared Lough­ner, the sus­pended Pima stu­dent who is ac­cused in this month’s deadly Ari­zona shoot­ings.

Yet the Tuc­son tragedy hangs in the air dur­ing a re­cent train­ing ses­sion. Just as col­leges na­tion­wide ramped up ef­forts to make their cam­puses safer af­ter the Vir­ginia Tech tragedy in 2007, the link be­tween Pima Com­mu­nity Col­lege and the Ari­zona shoot­ing s has prompted col­leges to again re­view their prac­tices. One re­cur­ring ques­tion: How and when to in­ter - vene?

The Na­tional Be­hav­ioral In­ter­ven­tion Team As­so­ci­a­tion , whose mem­bers in­clude hun­dreds of col­leges , de­fende d the Tuc­son school against those who say it could have done more. “Pima’s job was to pro­tect its stu­dents, em­ploy­ees and fa­cil­i­ties first, and Lough­ner sec­ond, if it could. Pima did its job,” it said.

Even so, Brett Sokolow, the as­so­ci­a­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, says many col­leges could be more dili­gent. Too of­ten, “they fo­cus on the tyranny of the im­me­di­ate, and lose sight of the stu­dents (they) should be track­ing,” he says.

Schools strike a bal­ance

Some schools have been ac­cused of go­ing too far. A new pol­icy al­low­ing North Carolina com­mu­nity col­leges to deny ad­mis­sion to stu­dents whom of­fi­cials con­sider a threat could dis­crim­i­nate against ap­pli­cants with mental ill­ness, dis­abil­i­ties rights groups and the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union ar­gue. The pol­icy, pro­posed in Au­gust and ap­proved Fri­day by a state board, could go into ef­fect April 1.

Iraq War vet­eran Charles Whittingto­n says of­fi­cials at the Com­mu­nity Col­lege of Bal­ti­more County over­re­acted in Novem­ber when they barred him from cam­pus on the con­di­tion he get a psy­chi­atric eval­u­a­tion. The school news­pa­per had just pub­lished his es­say for an English class in which he wrote that killing “is re­ally ad­dic­tive.”

“I’m not there to cause any­body harm, or to threaten any­body,” Whittingto­n told CNN. “I’m just try­ing to spread aware­ness. It’s like ther­apy for my­self.” Most col­leges have the author­ity to sus­pend or ex­pel stu­dents they think could harm oth­ers. Here at East­ern Ken­tucky, which en­rolls about 16,500 stu­dents, Dean of Stu­dents Claire Good makes no apolo­gies. “We have erred on the side of cau­tion, and we’ll con­tinue to do so,” she says.

A more press­ing con­cern, she says, is how to en­cour­age more peo­ple on cam­pus to speak up when they see wor­ri­some be­hav­ior. Good fol­lows up on any tip she gets but says re­port­ing is spotty.

That’s why she is train­ing fac­ulty, hous­ing staff and oth­ers across cam­pus who in­ter­act reg­u­larly with stu­dents, on how to iden­tify and re­port red flags more ef­fec­tively. At the train­ing ses­sion, they learn that con­crete, mea­sur­able ex­am­ples — star­ing in class, say, or dis­rup­tive be­hav­ior — are more help­ful than sub­jec­tive im­pres­sions, such as that a stu­dent is act­ing weird.

The data will go into a new soft­ware pro­gram, al­low­ing Good’s Stu­dent As­sis­tance and In­ter­ven­tion Team — eight core staffers, in­clud­ing coun­selors and cam­pus po­lice — to col­lect re­ports gath­ered across cam­pus into one place. With that in­for­ma­tion, the team can monitor the stu­dent to de­ter­mine whether ag­gres­sive be­hav­ior is es­ca­lat­ing.

“It’s like a neigh­bor­hood watch but a lot more so­phis­ti­cated,” says Ron Ben-Zeev, pres­i­dent of the Cen­ter for Ag­gres­sion Man­age­ment, which de­vel­oped the soft­ware.

Spot­ting strug­gle — or trou­ble

There are gray ar­eas. Dur­ing one case study, team mem­bers de­bated whether var­i­ous in­ci­dents were clues that a stu­dent was trou­bled or one who was grap­pling awk­wardly with new ideas. The ex­er­cise, based on a real in­ci­dent at an­other school, in­volved a Chris­tian stu­dent op­posed to stem cell re­search who one day stormed out of bi­ol­ogy class af­ter an emo­tional out­burst.

“On the very first day (of col­lege) the be­liefs they’ve had for the last 18 years are be­ing chal­lenged,” says East­ern Ken­tucky hous­ing di­rec­tor Kenna Mid­dle­ton. “Re­li­gion is one of those piv­otal things. De­vel­op­men­tally, many stu­dents don’t have the skills to deal with (their) raw emo­tions.”

Trainer John Byrnes ac­knowl­edged that ques­tion­able be­hav­ior could add up to noth­ing. But with­out enough data, there’s no way to know for sure. “This is not pro­fil­ing — it’s ob­serv­ing,” he says.

Good, whose team is look­ing into re­ports on about 15 stu­dents at any one time, says records re­main con­fi­den­tial, and stresses that the goal isn’t to pun­ish stu­dents but to help them get the care they need.

In some cases, stu­dents are grate­ful. East­ern Ken­tucky stu­dent Thomas John­son, 29, is tak­ing this se­mes­ter off, on Good’s rec­om­men­da­tion, af­ter fac­ulty and friends no­ticed he had stopped show­ing up for class or work.

“I was hol­ing my­self up in my apart­ment and drink­ing the whole time,” says John­son, 29, who works, at­tends 12-step pro­grams and lives in a sober-liv­ing group home. “I felt like it was them reach­ing out be­cause they care about me.”

AP

Cho

AP

Lough­ner

By Matt Goins, for USA TO­DAY

“They care about me”: Thomas John­son, 29, is tak­ing a se­mes­ter off from East­ern Ken­tucky Uni­ver­sity af­ter friends no­ticed he stopped show­ing up for class. He works at Hi­tachi Au­to­mo­tive Sys­tems, in Berea.

By Chris Rad­cliffe, East­ern Ken­tucky Uni­ver­sity

“Not pro­fil­ing, ob­serv­ing”: John Byrnes, founder of the Cen­ter for Ag­gres­sion Man­age­ment, teaches stu­dents to look out for ag­gres­sion.

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