Colleges step up efforts to prevent gun violence on campus


The recent mass shootings at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, have prompted renewed calls for higher education institutions to step up efforts to prevent gun violence on campus.

In a Tuesday webinar hosted by United Educators, an insurance company with 1,600 members in K-12 and higher education, education leaders received advice on how to make their safer establishments. Marisa Randazzo, executive director of threat management at Ontic, a protective intelligence software company, said assessing behavioral threats on campus can help thwart mass shootings.

“What we know from research is that people who commit school shootings in K-12 schools, as well as in higher education, generally follow a detectable progression of behavior, which means that ‘first they have an idea to do harm,’ Randazzo said.

Behavioral threat assessment teams are the best tool available to identify someone on a “path to violence,” from conception to execution of the crime, Randazzo said. In higher education, these teams typically include campus police, administrators, and mental health professionals. But there is no reliable data on how many school districts or K-12 colleges are actually using teams to assess behavioral threats within them.

“The most important message I want everyone to take away from this is that it is entirely possible to prevent acts of violence within our educational institutions,” Randazzo said. “I’m not saying we’ll prevent every one of them…it’s not necessarily a panacea for all the problems that schools, colleges and universities face.

Randazzo said someone planning a mass shooting often tells other people about their plans ahead of time. Would-be abusers frequently post on social media or even reference their intentions in homework. She noted that many perpetrators make their plans public because they want to be stopped.

Sometimes perpetrators are suicidal, she added, and see mass shootings as their only way out. Professionals equipped to identify threatening behaviors can intervene before they get to that point and guide them to mental health help.

“School shootings are preventable because the people who engage in them — and they are often students — follow this detectable path to violence,” Randazzo said. “We have a chance to identify someone who is on this path before they get to that last step and before they do any harm.”

Randazzo also recommended that colleges and universities establish a relationship with the local office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which may work with campus security or the Department of Public Safety.

“One thing that we’ve seen really well in higher education, in particular, is that there are dedicated liaisons within the FBI and in all of the major FBI field offices whose job it is to raise awareness. colleges and universities in their jurisdiction,” Randazzo said.

Mass shootings on campus

Colleges and universities have seen their fair share of gun violence, in some cases implementing preventative measures in response. In 2007, a gunman killed 32 people and injured 17 at Virginia Tech. Since then, Virginia Tech and other institutions have installed locks on the inside of classroom doors and replaced double door hardware with handles that cannot be chained and locked.

The Virginia Tech shootings also prompted an amendment to the Clery Act of 1990, the federal law that requires institutions to collect and report campus crime statistics and requires institutions to create a crime alert system. urgency to send the information as quickly as possible.

Other campuses that have seen mass shootings include Northern Illinois University, where a former sociology student killed five people and injured 17 in 2008, and Umpqua Community College, where a student killed nine people and injured 17. injured eight others in 2015.

Pedro Noguera, dean of the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, is part of a coalition of researchers who released an updated eight-point plan after the Uvalde shooting that advocates a grounded approach on evidence to reduce gun violence in the United States Noguera said the eight-point plan can be directly applied to higher education institutions.

Among other things, the plan recommends that schools and colleges ensure they have enough counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers for people with potential risk factors, such as mental illness. . At the same time, he warns that violence is not necessarily always the product of mental illness.

The plan also recommends the creation of a national program to train mental health and law enforcement partners to work together on crisis response and threat assessment teams. The program should allow people to anonymously report those who may be displaying warning signs, but also protect those identified from being unfairly blamed.

“I think the real focus is on preventative measures, which is colleges and universities kind of have to really follow the warning signs,” Noguera said. “Because what we know is that often when it comes to someone who is associated with the campus, the others knew in advance that there was a problem, whether it was from social media posts or comments they overheard.”

Noguera added that most higher education institutions should hold active fire drills just in case. Arizona State University, the University of Utah and the University of Nebraska at Omaha already provide such training.

“Unfortunately we are all vulnerable,” Noguera said. “I think any place where large numbers of people congregate on a regular basis is vulnerable. We have to take it very seriously. And that’s certainly true for colleges and universities.

For Noguera, the eight-point plan gives institutions the opportunity to implement change immediately, rather than waiting for national legislation.

“Even in the absence of leadership from policy makers, there are actions that people leading large organizations can take to ensure safety,” Noguera said. “And then let them be the audience. It would be great if we had leadership in Washington and state capitals to reduce access to guns, but there’s no way that’s happening anytime soon.

Temple University takes a community-based approach to preventing gun violence, said Caterina Roman, professor of criminal justice at Temple. After a student was fatally shot near campus in November, Temple created a Violence Reduction Task Force that includes students, faculty and staff, and community members.

This year, the institution also created an incentive for homeowners by giving them up to $2,500 in grants to improve security by installing lighting or cameras. And parents of students who live off-campus even went so far as to hire private security guards to patrol neighborhoods adjacent to campus in March.

“We have a public safety force that is dedicated and works closely with surrounding areas…we were at the forefront of what we were doing to support our students to feel safe,” Roman said. “I would say that, given the death of that student, Temple has done a lot more since then. But we were still doing a very strong set of innovative initiatives and our police forces were working together.

Temple’s newly formed task force is a model of how institutions can work with the community to make both safer at a time when indiscriminate gun violence threatens everyone.

“I think universities are realizing they can’t just carry on business as usual,” Roman said. “We do all of these things, but maybe they’re piecemeal. How do we collaborate – the right hand knows what the left hand is doing – so that we have much more impact, right, which will benefit our students and communities? »

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