Student Safety, Security and Response Time: Is Your Campus in Compliance?

By Mendoza, Sylvia | The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, September 22, 2014 | Go to article overview

Student Safety, Security and Response Time: Is Your Campus in Compliance?


Mendoza, Sylvia, The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education


Are students safe on college campuses? The question of student safety transcends color and ethnicity, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation, age and educational background. Victims that fall prey to violence or are threatened or whose data is compromised, often suffer more trauma when a university does not respond in a timely, fair, relatable and compassionate way. If that university does not have a safety strategy plan or crisis management policies and procedures in place that they can refer to, be guided by and enforce, the crisis can come back to haunt them on many levels.

At the annual American Council on Education (ACE) convention held earlier this year in San Diego, a panel entitled "High Priority: Student Safety," was led by distinguished panelists including Christopher Patti, chief campus counsel and associate general counsel, UC Berkeley; Ada Meloy, general counsel, ACE; Dr. Philip L. Dubois, chancellor, University of North Carolina, Charlotte; Steven J. Healy, managing partner, Margolis Healy, and Dr. Marie roster Gnage, president, West Virginia University, Parkersburg.

The panel focused on serious incidents endangering students and the damage caused to campus climate and reputation as a result. It also covered how recent attention on sexual assault and self-harm has caused colleges and universities to revisit policies and consider the effects on their campuses, including legal risks and media coverage.

All of the panelists could speak from experience. For some, student safety had been compromised. They had strategic plans and policies and procedures in place for what to do, in the least threatening of cases to the most extreme. For some, their plans were put to the test. For others, even the best plans failed. All of them believed that student safety comes first and make it a practice of taking the right measures to make their campuses safe.

"Out of all the campus priorities you might have, including information technology, your educational programs, your research, it doesn't much matter if people don't feel safe and are not safe on your campus," explains Chancellor Philip Dubois.

Every campus is different in relation to the severity of certain types of safety issues, but all campuses must have a plan of action to ensure safety and reactive measures when there is a breach in security.

Until he came to UC Berkeley in 2010 where he is chief counsel, Patti worked in the UC office of the president in Oakland and never saw students. In that first year alone, there was an active shooter, a multiple group protest, environmental issues, sexual violence, threatened students, drug overdoses, suicides, and the death of a football player, Patti says.

"Student safety became my focus," said Patti. "Student safety is not primarily a legal matter but you do take legal risks to do the right thing - and the best thing to do is not necessarily the best for student safety."

Yet the right thing must be done.

The Need For Compliance With Federal Regulations

In 2011, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) with the Department of Education noted that sexual assault had become an epidemic on college campuses. Title IX was supposed to guarantee all students an education free from sexual harassment and violence. The OCR recommends "all schools implement preventive education programs as part of their orientation programs for new students, faculty, and staff."

Many laws supposedly protect students from sexual violence and harassment - if the colleges adhere to and enforce their policies and procedures to be in compliance with federal laws - but often systems are woefully negligent or lacking.

President Obama assigned a task force including the attorney general and the secretaries of the Education, Health and Human Services and Interior Departments to find out how crime and threats of crime were being reported - and to raise awareness of officials' responses.

The task force recommended an increase of transparency and accountability via reports of crime on campus and in its vicinity, including sexual assaults - or else they will start enforcing what has gone unenforced for too long - fines for non-compliance. …

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