December 29, 2008

Campus Safety Strategies for Community Colleges

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Campus tragedies, like those at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, served as a wake-up call for the need to refocus efforts and attention to campus safety issues, and the role that everyone plays in recognizing potential red flag behaviors among students and others on campus.

“It would be easy to pass this off to Campus Safety or to Student Services and say ‘You have to keep our campus safe,’” said Denise Swett, dean of the Middlefield campus at Foothill College in northern California. “But the reality is we’re all part of this. Everyone has to participate and be responsible to take action to keep the campus safe.”

Five Proactive Strategies for Keeping College Campuses Safe
In a recent online seminar, Balancing Security with Open Access at Community Colleges, Swett discussed the importance of fostering a campus of caring where students and faculty truly connect, while also being vigilant in creating a climate of safety. Although the presentation addressed a number of issues unique to community colleges, the campus safety strategies provided would work for four-year schools as well.

1. Make safety the campus community’s responsibility – There has to be an overall feeling that you are going to do everything you can to keep the campus safe, and that includes reporting violent or erratic student behavior. No one can do it alone, and there is no single best solution for keeping campuses safe, Swett said.

2. Emphasize communication, training and awareness – Create comprehensive campus safety orientation and training programs for faculty, staff, students and parents, and offer them in person and online. Make sure faculty know what to look for in terms of student behaviors that could escalate, and the proper actions to take when they see these behaviors. Educate students on the support services that are available on campus.

3. Develop a crisis and emergency response plan – Although most campuses have an emergency response plan, very often it’s created in a vacuum, is not well distributed and is rarely updated. Swett encourages schools to invite campus community members to participate in the creation of a crisis response plan, and to provide regular training. When you hear of an incident at another campus, review your campus safety plan to see if you have the steps in place to handle something similar at your campus.

4. Integrate technology resources – Although automated campus notification systems are effective in communicated messages quickly to a large number of people, Swett urges campuses not to overlook the low-tech solutions like bullhorns as an added resource when you need to clear a lecture hall. You also can look to see what alert systems may be available from your local municipality.

5. Establish community partnerships – An important part of any campus safety plan is to create ongoing relationships with local police and fire departments, as well as mental health agencies and other government support systems.

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