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Committee helps assess threats

Nearly five years ago, terror and tragedy struck a college campus. Students at Virginia Tech, living seemingly normal college lives, were jolted from their everyday routines by the massacre shooting that took place on April 16, 2007. That day, Seung-Hui Cho took the lives of 32 people, injured 25 and ended the massacre by committing suicide.

The fear and chaos that ensued that day resonated throughout schools and establishments all over the country. Security was amped up, counselors increased their availability times and students were more hesitant than ever. The killer that took so many lives and caused so much panic and grief was not an unfamiliar person, but rather he was one of their own: he was a Virginia Tech student.

Drake University was one of the many schools that took action as a response to the Virginia Tech shooting.

“Schools around the country started developing Care Teams or Threat Assessment Teams to try to enhance their communication to better serve students who are having problems,” said Sentwali Bakari, dean of students and chair of the Care Team.

That year, following the incident at Virginia Tech, the Campus Care Advisement Team was created at Drake in an effort to respond to troubled students and to prevent any campus disruptions. This group allows students, faculty and staff the opportunity to seek assistance during a difficult time, to report any behavior or issue that they think may be an imminent threat and to provide them a variety of resources for personal and campus safety.

The Care Team is comprised of a variety of personnel from the Drake campus including representatives from residence life, Drake Security, the student health center and the university’s different colleges. The assortment of professionals on the group allows the Care Team to meet a variety of needs around campus in the most appropriate way.

“We have a range of people from administration, faculty and staff to try to close the loop on students who are having problems,” Bakari said. “Together we can prevent developing silos that would prevent us from communicating about students who are on the radar of having problems.”

The Care Team has specific definitions of troubled and disruptive students and focuses on key warning signs when evaluating a report that has been filed.  Mitzie Lootens, Drake Security operations manager and crime analyst, works very closely with the Care Team by reviewing reports filed for troubled students, faculty and staff and potential threats. Her background in law enforcement and psychology is particularly fitting for this position.

“If there is a pattern standing out or a change in behavior, then the offices respond and reports are filed,” Lootens said. “I review reports and get reports daily, like alcohol abuse, suicide threats, etc. Then I can contact the dean, and if he deems that the committee needs to come together, we have services, such as counseling, that are available.”

Reports that are filed often focus on students who are seen to have profound confusion, sadness, depression, are suicidal or have some other sort of unusual behavior. They also include students who are disruptive, including those who act dangerously, pose as a threat to other students or resist help from faculty or staff.

The variety of people serving on the Care Team allows for the group to determine the best possible course of action when working with troubled or disruptive students. Lootens said that each case is different and looked at on an individual basis. The team can make referrals, set rules or requirements, provide group or individual counseling or provide another service that it believes will be helpful for the student.

“All different departments work as a collective unit to devise a strategy and plan to secure safety and to utilize resources,” Lootens said.

After the catastrophe at Virginia Tech, the safety of college campuses was of the utmost importance. While most Drake students are preoccupied with the possibility of a threat from the outside surrounding community, the greater threat may be one from within the Drake community. The Care Team is not only in place to assist students but also to keep campus safe and to help prevent any sort of outburst on campus.

“Statistically, if you were to study campus, private or public industry shootings, you’ll find that the shooter is virtually always a student, employee, etc.” said Hans Hanson, director of campus security.

The Care Team keeps all reports confidential but extensively discusses each case within the group in order to take the best course of action in dealing with the issue. The group is deliberate in its plans, but sensitive overall, to ensure that students can feel safe, cared for and open to change.

“I think it’s a more caring environment, but it does help us in reducing incidents that come up,” Lootens said.

Reports to be reviewed by the Care Team can be filed online or in person at the dean of students office.

To file a Care Network Report visit www.drake.edu/dos and click the Care Report link.

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