Assessing Safety: A Campus-Wide Initiative

Article excerpt

Student behavior inside and outside of the classroom is an issue that impacts faculty, students, student affairs personnel, and the entire college community. Any type of violence or disrespectful behavior can disrupt the learning process. Due to recent violent events on college campuses, an assessment of campus safety was conducted. About 150 faculty and staff and 450 students completed a survey designed to measure beliefs and attitudes, daily behaviors, personal safety precautions, and cases of victimization. Survey results provided insight into the college community's perceptions of campus safety, and aided in the formation of strategies used to reduce or eliminate violence and incivility in the college environment. Findings also informed student affairs administrators of further actions needed to resolve conflict on campus, such as the development of policy and programs.

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The college campus atmosphere is often viewed as a place of academic sanctuary where opinions and feelings are openly expressed between faculty and students. For these students, the college years are a time of transition between the formal learning that takes place in childhood and adolescence and the move toward adulthood and the formal workplace. This transitional period is one that fosters independent and critical thinking, and allows students to speak out and test limits and boundaries. Subsequently, this time in young adulthood is also when students are more apt to challenge protocols and traditions in the college classroom. This picture of academic freedom and discourse has changed sharply over the years, when one closely examines patterns of behavior that exist both inside and outside of the college classroom.

This transitional period, during which young college students test their limits, has been more recently marked by acts of violence. Acts of violence, such as campus shootings and rapes, have caused college campuses to examine and implement safety plans for students and employees. Such plans often take resources away from academic needs for allocation toward the general security of the campus (Carr, 2005; Fox, 2008). Many would argue that safety is an expense to colleges that is worthwhile. Yet, in reality, resources are being diverted to enhance security on campuses with little increase in funding for these measures (Rasmussen & Johnson, 2008).

Despite efforts to improve on preparedness for disasters following the terrorist attacks in New York City, the hurricane in New Orleans, and flooding in the Midwest, the scope of violence that occurred at the Virginia Tech campus quickly motivated colleges to examine standards and practices in the event that a similar incident would occur (Rasmussen & Johnson, 2008). Concerns about the growing violence on college campuses has led some to question if this in part is due to the educational system that fosters peer groups and social hierarchies, leading certain students to become outcasts (Farmer, Farmer, Estell & Hutchinson, 2007). Others suggest that higher education has seen a large growth in enrollment that has resulted in college communities experiencing the same crime issues as any other community or city with open access spaces where people move from building to building (Border & Petersen, 1993 as cited in Bromley, 2005; Rasmussen & Johnson, 2008). Yet others point to several factors such as the entitlement mentality of this generation, the declining respect given to teachers, medications taken for behavioral health problems, inflated grades and the pressure to access graduate school and jobs (Benton, 2007).

Regardless of the underlying root causes of increased violence on campuses across the country, colleges have struggled with violent and disruptive behavior since the 1980s and there seems to be no good solution to the ever-growing threat that hinders academic life (Carmody, 1990). On-campus crime has been addressed by the passing of the 1990 Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act and the subsequent Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, also known as the Clery Act. …