Campus safety: the new reality
April 22, 2007
Stress, change and unpredictability are a apart of college life. Usually, that is a good thing. It is a time when students mature spiritually, intellectually and socially. But sometimes the unexpected happens. Consider these scenarios:

Bob Morgan, a sophomore, thought he knew Bill. They had been in the same class of fraternity initiates. But one day, Bill appeared at his door with a pistol in hand...

Sam Johnson walked across the quad on his way to English 101, wondering what the day ahead had in store, and if Jill would really meet him that night. His thoughts were broken quickly as three students he did not know ran out of a building about 100 yards away. One was bleeding. Then he heard shots.....

Are these scenes melodramatic fiction? We might have thought so 10 years ago or even five. But in today's climate we must--individually and collectively--be prepared for anything on or off campus.

To prevent, or at least minimize, the impact of either scene occurring, Jack Kennedy, a member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon Delta Mu chapter alumni board at Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, KS, has devised a crisis plan locally that he hopes will be considered for national distribution by the TKE national office in Indianapolis.

While the language is geared towards fraternity members, his suggestions can serve as the basis for consideration by other adjunct campus groups and adapted to their needs. He makes the following points:

  1. Listen, really listen, to others--the quiet ones, the outgoing ones, and those in between. You don't have to be a licensed psychiatrist to care about others, to see some signals of stress and disorientation and isolation. Offer to help "talk out" problems together. No one has all of the answers.

  2. Get help, through the campus health center, community agencies and other trained professionals.

  3. See that a frater seeks out someone--his big brother, a teacher, a longtime adult friend, someone at home, an alumnus. Offer to go with him if he is willing.

  4. Make sure your fraternity orientation and the school's dorm and freshman orientations discuss in detail how to act in times of crisis, where to get help, how to evacuate and how to communicate. Does the campus have a unified warning system? Does your chapter president and/or advisor have a list of all e-mail addresses and phone numbers, as a warning/notification network?

  5. Invite local law enforcement and/or counseling professionals to the house early on, to aid individuals, create links and help; develop a crisis situation plan before it is needed.

  6. Keep a list or rack full of literature in the house, covering law enforcement/emergencies, suicide hotlines, alcohol, drug and abuse counselors, spiritual leaders, mental health agencies--addresses and phone numbers of anyone on or off campus who can help. (Some of these might turn into public service chapter activities.)

  7. Be aware of your surroundings, as you cross campus or sit in your room. Your environment can change suddenly. Welcome change and avoid rapid, facile judgments about people or situations, but be discerning.

  8. In your chapter house, dorm or apartment, have safety/evacuation and communication plans.

  9. Discuss chapter crisis/communication/counseling plans with your alumni advisory board. Identify alumni and other adults with specific skills, who can be helpful and can be contacted immediately.

  10. Devise a plan for parental notification and use it as soon as possible when problems arise.

"I just wanted to do something," Kennedy said. "College students need help."

As a former college instructor, Kennedy is still in touch with students who are dorm resident assistants facing problems every day unarmed.

"They tell me there is nothing in their RA manual to prepare them for what happened at Virginia Tech," he said. "No one in dorms or fraternities could have expected carnage like that."

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