The shootings at Jonesboro, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and other high schools and universities have shaken Americans’ basic belief that students and staff are safe while at school. While the Clery Act of 1990 (formerly the Student Right to Know and Campus Security Act) requires schools to inform all students and staff of safety risks, it really addresses only ways that schools approach crimes that have already occurred. A more prevention-based tactic that schools have explored in response to the public’s growing concern for the safety of the country’s schools is an increase in training and educational programming. With the more current goal of ensuring that students and staff feel safe in colleges and universities, college staffs have the added task of providing safety information and preventive strategies. These programs address the issue of alcohol consumption, which can contribute to acts of violence; address the prevention of sexual violence; and strengthen campus housing staff to better prevent violence by providing alterative social outlets and to effectively handle crimes once they do occur.
Problems surrounding alcohol consumption on college campuses range from underage drinking to drinking and driving to sexual violence. Many of these problems result from binge drinking, which is defined as drinking four alcoholic beverages in a single session for women, and five drinks in a single session for men. Given that more than 40% of college students report binge drinking, these problems are at the forefront of collegiate staff efforts to lower campus crime rates. One way to do so is to target groups known to abuse substances at higher rates than even general college students. Students involved in Greek life (i.e., fraternities and sororities) tend to binge drink, drink to intoxication, and drink to the point of blacking out, and use marijuana at higher levels than students not involved in such organizations. By investing in programs aimed at fraternity/sorority students, and at the campus population at large, university staff can begin to address problems associated with student drinking.
One such program that staff can use to help minimize alcohol-related violence is Alcohol 101, which is aimed at first-year college students who are either commuting or living on campus. It is carried out in different universities in a variety of ways, from required online reading and quizzes to presentations and discussions. One study examining the effectiveness of various alcohol prevention programs aimed at college freshman found that, when it is made voluntary, this program is accessed by students more often when resident assistants (RAs) seek them out specifically. Information is shared in a one-on-one setting. While this is a less effective way to provide Alcohol 101 to students on a mass scale, including students who do not live on campus, students who learn about the program in this way take part in it at higher rates than students who hear about the program in other ways. Getting specific information on steps to take with a person who blacked out from drinking, prevention of excessive drinking, and ways to reduce the risks of drunk driving, sexual violence, and other situations that can be associated with binge drinking, as well as provision of alternative social activities, is important in preventing school violence and related problems. Alcohol 101 programs reach students early enough to help them develop healthier relationships with alcohol, their new peers, and the campus.
Violence within relationships–here referring to violence within any type of romantic relationship–is a problem consistently plaguing college campuses. Nevertheless, it is not as widely discussed or addressed as general underage and binge drinking prevention, or sexual health, including birth control availability, condom use, and sexually transmitted diseases. One program worked to address this issue after the campus counseling center reported an increase in dating violence cases. This program aimed to show how gender stereotypes heighten the likelihood of relationship violence, examine different forms of relationship violence, provide ways to avoid relationship violence, and increase the collective social interest in this issue, encouraging people to take responsibility for this social problem.
Sexual violence, specifically rape, was addressed by one college in a prevention program targeting first-year college students. An experiment done on this program divided students into two groups. The experimental group received a more interactive program including a presentation and an interactive activity; the control group received only a presentation. The results showed that the students who gained the most knowledge were those who participated in the interactive activity and listened to a presentation. This and other types of programs addressing rape lessen society’s tendency to stay relatively quiet on the subject. The college that ran the previously described experiment reported that the most important issue in preventing rape was clarifying what consent is. This knowledge could help a victim see that the perpetrator has committed a crime and realize that the victim may be able to prevent this person from victimizing other individuals by going to the hospital soon and being tested with a rape kit. It could also prevent perpetrators from going through with such a crime, by showing them the potential legal consequences they could face if convicted.
From relationship violence to sexual assault, a broad spectrum of school violence along these lines needs to be addressed. One study examined the use of interdisciplinary task forces that bring together students and staff members from various student organizations, academic departments, and other groups on campus to study which measures are already addressing these issues and what can be repaired or added. One specific task force worked to improve campus policies, protocols, and services available to victims; develop more innovative prevention strategies; and provide faculty and staff training. The unified structure and pooled resources, power, and perspectives increased the university’s ability to achieve these goals. Such goals are made more specific when they are applied to the specific gaps in the existing programs, training, and services.
Because so many students live on campus at some point in their college careers, resident hall staff members–many of whom are students themselves–are generally the first people to handle violent situations. Counselor-in-residence programs bring counselors generally housed in offices in health and human services centers to the residence halls and resident staff. They work to lower the high caseloads with which counseling centers often must cope, helping RAs and other staff to handle more minor problems themselves. They provide these individuals with the training needed to handle various situations, helping them develop the skills and empathetic attitude necessary to assist residents in crisis. Counselors who are part of these programs will be working primarily with residence life staff. The undergraduate student RAs and higher-level graduate student supervisors are the clients, receiving group and individual training so that they can better deal with a variety of issues, including violent incidents. By providing resident hall staff with licensed counselors, such programs ensure that particularly high-risk situations can be immediately handled by a professional, and they lighten the counseling center’s general caseload by engaging student staff to help with more minor issues.
Coping with the many types of violence that college campuses must deal with calls for consistently effective programming. Such programs help prevent violence by working to reduce risky behaviors such as doing drugs or drinking to excess that increase the likelihood of violence. They bring students and staff together, pooling valuable resources to fund and carry out more innovative programs that will appeal to more students. With so many people living and working in such a small area, there is an ongoing need to diffuse stress and stay vigilant for potentially violent situations. The more focus that is put on increasing positive programs aimed at preventing campus violence, the safer that students and staff will be. Every program has the potential to save a life, prevent an injury, and open a mind.
- Alcohol 101 Plus: http://www.alcohol101plus.org/home.html
- Can I Kiss You?: http://www.datesafeproject.org/can-i-kiss-you-programs-presentations/
- Rawls, D., Johnson, D., & Bartels, E. (2004). The counselor-in-residence program: Reconfiguring support services for a new millennium. Journal of College Counseling, 7(2), 162-170.