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Violence in College: How Safe Is Your Campus?

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College campuses across the United States are facing the growing problem of violent crime on and off their campuses. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has determined a violent crime to be one of four offenses: 1) murder and non-negligent manslaughter, 2) forcible rape, 3) robbery, and 4) aggravated assault.

Awareness of violent crime on college campuses burst into the public’s consciousness with the reporting of several tragic cases in the 1980s. These incidents put to rest the long-cherished notion that colleges and universities are somehow cloistered enclaves – far removed from the threat of crime that haunts the rest of society.

Colleges are required by the federal government to keep crime statistics and to share them with students, faculty, and staff. The Campus Security Act was the first federal legislation to address the issue of crime on college campuses and reflects a national commitment to increase campus safety. The Act requires that institutions publish and distribute an annual report which describes security and law enforcement policies, crime prevention activities, procedures for reporting crimes on campus, and certain campus crime statistics. The Campus Sexual Assault Victims Bill of Rights requires institutions of higher education to develop and publish policies regarding the prevention and awareness of sex offenses and procedures for responding after a sex offense occurs as part of their campus security report. The Department of Education is responsible for the enforcement of the Campus Security Act and the Campus Sexual Assault Victims Bill of Rights. Failure to comply could mean the loss of federal funds, including student loan monies.

According to a US Secret Service study on shootings in schools, in three fourths of the cases, the assailant had told at least one other person in advance, and half had told more than one person. It is key that schools overcome this communication gap. The difference between the schools where shootings have taken place and where they have been prevented is that students – not administrators or faculty – reported the danger and the adults took action. A code of silence exists in too many schools – to report the possibility of violent crime means choosing to be a “snitch” or becoming a victim. An environment must be created where it is easy and safe to report dangerous or suspicious situations before they result in violence. Students must also know that their information will be taken seriously and that their schools will take action.

While predicting violent behavior will never be an exact science, universities must begin to enact violence prevention strategies. Maintaining an attitude that “this couldn’t happen here” hampers the necessary education of faculty, staff, and security personnel. Colleges are still afraid that if they take action against a possibly violent student, they might get sued.

The profile for violent individuals is changing. Campuses are seeing an increase of women assaulters. Though still in the single-digit numbers and not nearly as high as the amount of incidents with male perpetrators, the total is going up. The violence-prone individual is usually male ad is more likely to have enduring personality pathology, such as a paranoid, schizoid, narcissistic, or antisocial personality, and a long history of difficult interpersonal relationships. He may ruminate about real or imagined slights or injustices for months or even years. Because he is often a loner, he has no circle of friends to correct his misinterpretations of other people’s intentions and behaviors. Because he looks at the world from a very egocentric point of view, he is unable to correctly perceive the effect of his behavior on other people. The emotion he feels is not everyday anger but profound and intense hatred of those who have allegedly demeaned or wronged him. His thinking is so faulty that he can justify assaultive behavior on the basis that he is the innocent victim.

How can a college predict which students may become dangerous? It is often said that the best predictor of violent behavior is past violent behavior. A history of domestic violence or other assaultive behavior (or recent police encounters) should heighten vigilance. Suicide attempts should also cause concern. Violence is more likely to occur during times of high stress, such as during finals. Other predictors identified include:

  • The tendency to use threats, intimidation, manipulations, or escalations
  • Adverse reaction to criticism
  • Rigid ideas and resistance to change
  • Sullen, angry, or depressed appearance
  • Refusal to accept responsibility for actions
  • Paranoid thoughts that others are “out to get” him or her
  • Tendency to always be involved in some grievance, crusade, or mission
  • Odd behavior that produces uneasiness and apprehension in other people
  • Jokes or comments about having weapons or praise for other perpetrators of violence
  • Expressions of despair or hopelessness

If you are a victim of or witness to any crime or act of violence on campus:

  • Try and get to a safe place. Remove yourself from the immediate situation.
  • Notify the police by dialing 9-1-1 or use an emergency call box on campus.
  • Be prepared to give the dispatcher as much information as possible, including:
    • nature of the incident
    • location of the incident
    • description of the person(s) involved – height, weight, approximate age, clothing, etc.
    • location or direction of travel of person(s) and/or vehicles involved
    • if a vehicle is involved, note the type, make, model, color, and license number
    • any obvious injuries
    • type of weapon involved, if used
    • your name, location, and contact information
  • Do not take unnecessary chances or put yourself at risk. Remain where you are (if it’s safe) until police arrive.

If a major act of violence occurs on your campus, it’s important to have a plan. Know the evacuation routes for buildings you frequent. Know what system your school uses to keep parents and students informed. In the case of incidents on campus, most colleges ask parents to try to remain calm and give officials a chance to get all the facts. Know who to contact in case of an emergency and what personal calls to make.

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Christopher Williams over 6 years ago Christopher Williams

Great blog! The statement that had the most impact referred to the reason why shootings have taken place at schools and why they haven't other. It basically came down to the student being informative regarding danger on campus and reported to admiinistratrs. This now raises the question is it the students reporting the danger or the administrators actually taking steps to prevent further danger influencing the low number of violence acts on campus? Nevertheless is seems this comes back to communication to promote a safe campus environment. Chrisotopher Williams