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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “After VT, campus safety in spotlight”

    While UA disciplinary policies have not undergone any specific changes since the Virginia Tech shootings, measures are being taken to help faculty and students prevent future tragedies on campus.

    Just as in the wake of the Virginia Tech incident, questions were raised about safety and student behavior following the shooting at the College of Nursing in 2002 that killed three professors.

    Five years after the UA shooting, university policies regarding disruptive and threatening behavior are still being scrutinized and changed.

    “”If they are feeling that they are in harm’s way, that there is imminent danger to themselves or others, they are to contact police immediately.””
    – Veda Kowalski,
    associate dean of students

    Reports of disruptive behavior, which is defined as “”conduct that materially and substantially interferes with or obstructs the teaching or learning process in the context of a classroom or educational setting,”” according to the Student Code of Conduct, is typically resolved between the student and the professor. In exceptional cases, however, the Dean of Students Office is called in to resolve the issue.

    Threatening behavior, which can include written and verbal communication, provokes a response from a number of campus agencies, including the Dean of Students Office, the University of Arizona Police Department and Counseling and Psychological Services at Campus Health.

    Imminent threats, such as behavior that specifically targets an individual or group, should be reported to the police immediately, said Veda Kowalski, an associate dean of students.

    “”We always urge people that they need to trust their gut, they need to trust what they’re feeling and go with that,”” Kowalski said. “”If they are feeling that they are in harm’s way, that there is imminent danger to themselves or to others, they are to contact police immediately.””

    If threatening behavior targets a person, the individual may be notified, said Marian Binder, director of CAPS.

    Reports of behavior that is a non-imminent threat to either the student – such as a suicide risk – or to others are handled through the Behavior Assessment Team, which is a team of representatives from the Dean of Students Office, faculty members, Life and Work Connections, the Department of Risk Management and UAPD who evaluate each case and determine a course of action, Kowalski said.

    The team is utilized perhaps once or twice a semester, Kowalski said.

    Referrals to CAPS are made if there is a mental health issue. But there is a clear delineation between behavior issues and mental health issues, Binder said.

    “”We don’t always make the assumption that it’s a mental health issue,”” Binder said. “”We also try to make sure people are aware that most people with mental health problems – that is, with diagnosable psychiatric disorders – most of those people do not pose any danger to anybody.””

    When referred to CAPS, either through the Behavior Assessment Team or from the Dean of Students Office, the individual is then evaluated. While a person cannot be forced to go to counseling, CAPS can recommend further assistance or, if the patient is in danger of harming himself or others, begin a process to hospitalize the individual, Binder said.

    If there is a report of a student who could be a danger, particularly after business hours, a mobile acute crisis team is sent to perform an on-site evaluation of the student, Binder said.

    The MAC team is typically used a handful of times a semester, mainly in cases involving self-harm, Binder said.

    In cases of threatening behavior and mental health issues, specific legal guidelines must be followed in dealing with the individual, including confidentiality agreements.

    “”While we certainly want to keep public safety in mind, we also have to keep the safety and confidentiality of our clients in mind, and so it’s always a balancing act because if something poses an imminent danger, we’re going to break confidentiality in that,”” Binder said.

    While policies are continually examined, the UA is working to refine its response to threats following the College of Nursing shooting and the Virginia Tech tragedy.

    Revisions to policies after the College of Nursing shooting included the behavioral assessment teams and the development of a close working relationship between campus institutions such as CAPS and the Dean of Students Office, Binder said. While no changes are planned in direct response to the Virginia Tech shootings, the procedures are always being tweaked, Binder said.

    “”You always look at a policy to look at how you can make it better, how you can do things differently,”” Kowalski said. “”I think that any time a tragedy happens on our campus, it does cause us to look at what we are doing.””

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