Posted March 3, 2016 by Thomas Lane 

A Proactive Approach to Preventing Campus Violence

After nine years of serving as assistant vice president for student life and director of the Plaster Student Union, this past June, I was provided the opportunity to serve my institution as associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students. It has been a fantastic learning opportunity that has expanded my student affairs knowledge and provided me a unique window into the significant challenges many of our students face as they work to achieve their higher education goals.

One area I am now responsible for, and had limited experience with in my prior role as director, is chairing our campus Behavioral Intervention Team (or “BIT”). Serving on BIT has introduced me to many students, who for a variety of reasons often feel disconnected from the sense of campus community we in the college union and activities field work hard to build and promote. Often these students will come to our team’s attention because others have noticed changes in their behavior and are concerned. Such changes can range from declining hygiene, excessive class absenteeism, exhibiting anxiety or depression, engaging in disruptive behavior on campus, to expressing suicidal ideation or a desire to harm others. Our team’s goal is to promote campus safety by identifying behaviors that are of a low level of concern and appropriately intervene before such behaviors escalate, while also ensuring the student has the support they need to be successful.

Behavioral Intervention Teams, which can also be known on campuses as “Student Care and Concern Teams” or may be connected to “Threat Assessment Teams," can play an important part in proactively reducing threats to campus safety by preventing campus violence through early intervention. Teams are often multidisciplinary in composition and may include faculty, various student affairs staff from such functional areas as counseling, health services, residence life, conduct, in addition to campus safety personnel. The intent behind such teams is to break through campus silos by providing a central information collection point regarding behavior and, in turn, reduce the opportunity of important behavioral warning signs from being ignored.

As community builders, it is important for college union and activities staff to recognize behaviors disruptive to community and assist in helping the campus appropriately intervene. Similar to our residence life colleagues, college union staff are often on the “front line” of student life and work closely with students on a daily basis providing opportunities to notice when a particular student is exhibiting odd or concerning behavior. Additionally, student building managers and other student employees are trained to notice disruptive student behavior occurring in our facilities and to report such behavior in their daily logs. As union professionals, we can ensure such information is also reported to the campus BIT when appropriate.

Be familiar with who is on your campus BIT, the team’s mission and purpose, how it collects information (e.g., online reporting form), and encourage other staff and students to report concerning behaviors. By participating in a culture of reporting, we can help ensure our students are provided the support they need for their success while also contributing to a safer campus community.
Thomas Lane

Thomas Lane is the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs & Dean of Students at Missouri State University.

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