As shooting rampages continue at universities across the country, some of Indiana’s colleges are trying to prevent potential threats on campus by establishing special groups that monitor strange student behavior.
Tucked away in a quiet Indianapolis neighborhood, Butler University is not your typical city college, but like many schools across the nation, it is dealing with odd situations.
“What’s strange behavior? What is odd? What do you report and what don’t you report?” asked Dr. Levester Johnson, Butler’s Vice President of Student Affairs.
Fo 59 sat down with Johnson , who explained the University’s Assessment and Care Team or ACT. The team meets every two weeks to go over strange or disturbing incidents on campus.
Each year, Johnson said, the school deals with 40 to 60 tips involving odd student behavior. Out of those, an average of 40 students meet with Johnson. Most, he said, are facing anxiety, depression, or a difficult time adjusting to university life. But an average of five students a year are threatening enough to themselves or others that they have to be removed from campus.
At Purdue’s campus in West Lafayette, the Behavioral Intervention Team meets weekly, monitoring concerns about students.
In 2012, the school dug into 96 cases and used all of its resources to investigate.
‘We may talk to roommates. We may talk to friends. We may talk to instructors, seeing how the student is doing in class. Have they been attending class? Have they been engaged in their activities? Maybe there’s any activity on Facebook or Twitter,” explained Purdue’s Dean of Students Dr. Danita Brown.
Like Butler, Purdue often refers students to seek mental help and if they refuse, the school can kick the student off campus.
“We can bar a person from this campus, Purdue’s campus, if we feel there is a severe threat to the Purdue University campus,” said Brown. “We have had to do that from time to time.”
It’s happened a handful of times at Indiana University in Bloomington, said IU Dean of Students Pet Goldsmith. He leads a weekly meeting with staff and campus police and they investigate roughly 50 to 60 incidents a year.
“They may be acting strangely or that they’ve acted out or there’s been an incident in the classroom,” said Goldsmith.
IU is taking it a step further. Two years ago, the school began training hundreds of students to catch red flags and step in.
“We are trying to give them the words and the confidence that they could intervene in a situation before it became dangerous,” explained Goldsmith.
About 500 of these vigilant students are already walking on campus right now and Goldsmith predicts thousands more in years to come.
While these schools watch students and look for red flags, none could guarantee that they would be able to really know if there was a current threat on campus as big as Sandy Hook Elementary shooter Adam Lanza or accused Aurora movie theater gunman James Holmes.
“It is very difficult to predict what somebody is thinking or feeling,” said Brown.
Goldsmith added, “It is always a judgment call. And you really can’t predict human behavior.”
However they all insisted, they are catching quite a lot by creating an active culture of care and concern.