March 9th, 2011

Winning Students’ Hearts and Minds the Latest Campus Safety Approach

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Campus security is not normally an issue that is discussed in conjunction with faculty members. Typically, campus safety is relegated to the purview of administrators and campus police. Few professors receive substantial training on ways to enhance campus safety through what occurs in their classrooms. This view needs to change in order to respond to current realities and to incorporate the recommendations of the latest research on campus safety.

Unfortunately, the pressures of modern life and recent concerns over the hazards of developing inappropriately close relationships with students seem to be combining to push professors and students further apart. As class sizes increase, the possibility for college students to remain anonymous—and alienated—grows. This situation serves to undermine more than just education; it can also have negative effects on campus safety.

New security devices such as better sirens, text messaging, and warning systems may be useful in combating school violence, but it would be a fundamental mistake for college officials to turn exclusively to a hardware solution to address campus threats. While faculty colleagues looking at the headlines or thinking back to horrific news accounts of campus shootings might feel the urge to withdraw or pull away from students, that is precisely the opposite of what needs to happen.

The main point and recommendation of campus safety research was summarized eloquently in Deadly Lessons, which states: “We could not put it better than the words of a beloved, long time teacher at one of the schools we studied—‘The only real way of preventing school violence is to get into students’ heads and hearts.’” As idealistic as this sounds, it is actually very realistic, practical, and security-oriented advice.

In other words, faculty members and college administrators need to be more engaged with students, not less. This will require some courage, particularly when working with a deeply troubled student, but if it is framed properly, engagement becomes the best security measure. It is important to bear in mind that professors are teaching the whole person, not merely focusing on their brains. Emotions comprise part of the intellectual process, as well.

The absolute best security measure on your campus is to develop a culture of two-way listening where students who have valid concerns about other students, or even about themselves, feel they can come forward and can talk to a faculty member or administrator. Students at risk need to believe that there is a faculty member who is an attentive listener, who seems to care about the students in class and is receptive to talking to them as a guide and as a trusted, helpful mentor.

Unfortunately, most campus tenure and promotion guidelines currently do not reward faculty members professionally for their efforts in getting to know their students personally. This is part of the campus culture that will need to change to promote safety and reduce the likelihood of future violence.

Reference:
Moore, Mark, et al. (2003). Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence. National Research Council: Washington, DC. ii.

Excerpted from What Faculty Must Know About Campus Security, a Magna Publications white paper. Learn More »