So maybe you’re fresh out of high school, new to college, and ready to explore and tackle the world of higher education. Or perhaps you’re a professor on campus, looking forward to an exciting semester with a fresh batch of eager minds. You could also be an administrator, member of the maintenance crew, graduate student, barista at Cafe Descartes, or a librarian. Whoever you are, YOU are responsible for your own safety and the safety of everyone else around you.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on the shooting that happened in late July at the theater in Aurora, Colorado during the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. Let’s also not forget the campus massacres at Virginia Tech and NIU. A year after the Virginia Tech tragedy, Eric Thompson, who sold the .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun to Seung-Hui Cho, gave a speech at Virginia Tech advocating for students to be able to carry concealed weapons on campus for protection. He even offered discounts.
Is this the answer to ensuring safety on college campuses? Allowing students to carry weapons?
I believe the answer lies largely in establishing, implementing, and effectively utilizing campus resources. Soon after the afore-mentioned shootings, Illinois passed a law requiring all public universities to create emergency response and preventative resources. In accordance with this law, NEIU established the Emergency Management Team, under which operates the Behavioral Concerns Team (BCT), a multi-disciplinary team responsible for assessing reports of disturbing, disruptive, or potentially dangerous behavior on campus.
In order for the BCT to do its job, we as students, faculty, and staff need to be the eyes and ears on campus. We need to be aware of “red flag behaviors” such as withdrawal and isolation, anger management issues and being regularly disruptive in class.According to BCT member and Assistant Director of Student Health and Counseling Services Dr. Alina Viola, “red flag behaviors” vary from person to person. “Often the way we talk about warning signs has to do with not specific things that people are doing, but changes in the behavior that you observe. So, if somebody who you’ve known to be pretty easy-going all of a sudden becomes very irritable and short-tempered, or if somebody who you’ve known to be pretty social and relaxed all of a sudden becomes withdrawn and isolates a lot. It has more to do with shifts in things that you might be observing.”
Besides the BCT, NEIU offers N-Alert, an emergency communication system that sends texts, emails, and voicemails to members of the university community notifying them of anything from closures due to severe weather to reports of suspicious behavior on campus. Sergeant John Schulz of campus police strongly encourages registering for N-Alert.
With such solid resources in place, you, as a member of the campus community, should not be afraid to use them! If you sense any suspicious behavior, don’t hesitate to report it! Reach out to someone who seems distressed or disturbed. “When in doubt, you’re not going to make anything worse by asking….Some of the most powerful things we have in our arsenal are the relationships we have with people. Isolation is a big risk factor for people who are troubled,” Viola advised.
College can be a really stressful time. Whatever the situation, you are not alone. If things get rough during the semester and you feel stressed, talk it out. You’re not the only student who’s having a hard time. Stay in touch with your professor. The worst thing you can do is freak out, stop communicating, and isolate yourself. NEIU students are entitled to 50 counseling sessions throughout the term of their academic career.
If a situation seems immediately threatening, contact campus police. If not, report it to the BCT, http://www.neiu.edu/~bct/index.html. Go with your gut feeling. If something doesn’t feel right, you should probably do something about it! The force is with you!