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Making Campuses and Students Safer

The National Campus Safety and Security Conference preceding the annual meeting brought together attendees from various positions at a wide range of institutions with researchers and representatives of the eight associations that have been working together for more than a year to systematically examine the emergency preparedness of colleges and universities.

The program reviewed several key studies, unveiling the results of a comprehensive survey undertaken by NACUBO as part of the Campus Safety and Security Project (CSSP), and shared findings from six intensive site visits to campuses across the country. Good ideas abounded as participants learned from each other's experiences during time set aside for small group discussions.

Training staff and conducting drills on reacting to a campus shooter is fine, but leave the students out of it, said luncheon speaker James Alan Fox, Northeastern University professor and well-known criminologist and author. Fox challenged conventional thinking about how to make campuses safe, expressing concern that too much focus on the unlikely probability of an encounter with a gunman on campus encourages fear and makes students feel like they have a “target on their backs.”

While acknowledging the public pressure that followed the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, Fox questioned the extent to which scarce resources are being directed toward fortifying campuses. Fox shared data showing that, in the six years from 2000 to 2005, there were 76 homicides on college campuses in the United States, with 50 student victims—which translates to 1 student out of 2 million or about 10 victims a year. In contrast, there are more than a thousand suicides and even more thousands of deaths due to substance and alcohol abuse among college students each year.

While cautioning that profiling is problematic—warning signs are more often yellow than red, and most criteria have been developed based on middle and high school students—Fox noted that the majority of campus “rampage” shooters were current or former graduate students. He theorizes that these students' investment in their academic careers is often intense, they may lack balance in their lives, and potential failure is overwhelming. Therefore, he believes institutions need to do more to sensitize faculty and increase their role in campus safety.

CSSP project director Jim Hyatt closed the conference by leading an open discussion of “next steps” for improving campus preparedness. Among the suggestions were:

  • More assistance for smaller institutions.
  • Increased sharing of information among colleges and universities, particularly those that are nearby.
  • More focus on campus business continuity planning.
  • Increased community outreach, formal agreements, and training with local and state law enforcement.

Safety and security were also session topics during the annual meeting itself: “The Future of Campus Law Enforcement and Security,” “GameDay Security: Managing the Sea of Red,” and “Table-Top Exercises to Simulate Real-Life Incidents,” among others.

Return to the conference's main page.