Frequently Asked Questions
Questions about referring someone who might need assistance:
- Why do I matter to the Safety & Concerns Committee?
- What are some behaviors that could indicate someone needs help?
- If I am concerned about a situation, when should I share what I know with the team?
- How is threat assessment different from profiling?
- Is this committe designed to stop the next school shooter?
- What do I do if I’m concerned about someone? Whom do I tell?
- Who can report a concerning behavior?
- Will someone show up to talk to the person I’m concerned about?
- What do you do with the information I provide to you?
- How do I know you are addressing the situation?
- When will I receive an update or feedback about the situation?
- What happens to someone if I say something?
- I’m worried about someone I know, but I don’t think it’s serious enough to say anything about.
What should I do? I don’t want to get him or her in trouble.
- Do I need to have evidence or proof that something is wrong with someone?
- How do I identify a violent person?
- What if I am wrong about someone?
- Should I talk to the person first and tell him that I’m sharing my concern?
- Will the person know that I shared information about him/her? I don’t want him/her to think I ‘tattled.’
- Can I make an anonymous report?
- As a University, can’t you just make people leave campus if they are a problem?
- What if something happens off campus that I am concerned about?
- If someone who has been reviewed by the Threat Assessment Team leaves the area, do you continue to monitor him/her?
Students in Distress FAQs
- What should I do if I have concerns about a student?
- Are more students coming to college with mental disorders?
- How widespread is suicide among college students?
- Shouldn't we routinely remove depressed students, especially if they report suicidal ideation?
- Is there an association between mental illness and violence?
- How can I identify potentially violent students?
- Should I talk with a student about my concerns?
Why do I matter to the Safety & Concerns Committee?
You matter to the team because you interact with people on campus and can notice a change in their behavior. A change in behavior is one of the first indicators that something is wrong and the person needs assistance.
What are some behaviors that could indicate someone needs help?
See list of indicators of potential concerns.
If I am concerned about a situation, when should I share what I know with the committee?
You should share what you know with the committee when you feel the individual needs intervention or assistance. The earlier the committee receives information, the more options we have to assist the person you are concerned about.
How is threat assessment different from profiling?
Profiling is commonly used as an investigative tool after a crime is committed to describe the type of person likely to commit that particular crime. Threat assessment is designed to be a preventative process used to identify warning signs and intervenebefore someone commits a crime.
Is this committe designed to stop the next school shooter?
Threat assessment is designed to connect people in distress with necessary resources to help them deal with the stressors in their lives. This committee is designed to prevent a wide array of harm on campus-- not just the next school shooter.
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Who can report a concerning behavior?
Anyone can report a concerning behavior, and our committee encourages you to share any information you have. You may not feel like you have all of the information, but you don’t need to. Let our trained professionals gather all relevant information and help the person, if needed. The earlier you share your information with us, the more resources we have to assist the person you are concerned about.
Will someone show up to talk to the person I’m concerned about?
After a report is made, the team will gather information, review the information, and formulate a plan. Depending on the situation, someone from the committee or the police department may contact the person you are concerned about.
What do you do with the information I provide to you?
After we receive the initial information, a police detective will check with offices across campus to determine if other concerning behaviors are being displayed by the person you are concerned about. The committee will discuss the behaviors of concern and create an action plan to assist the individual, if needed. Some cases will require no further action, and some cases will be referred to a specific office on campus for monitoring or provision of services.
How do I know you are addressing the situation?
If you provide contact information, someone will contact you to let you know that we received your concern and are reviewing it. If a specific department or office is involved with the situation, they will be notified, as appropriate.
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When will I receive an update or feedback about the situation?
As the reporting party, you can expect that someone will contact you about your concern to see if you have any additional information. Due to the confidentiality of most cases, only some information is likely to be shared with you. But as a reporting party, you serve an important role in the monitoring of the situation because of your interaction with the subject. We would like to have you as an ally in this process to inform us if the management plan with the individual plan is working. If you have shared a concern, and see no change in behavior, or continue to be worried about the situation, please contact the UNCG Police Department at (336) 334-5963.
What happens to someone if I say something?
Most importantly, the person you are concerned about will receive assistance if you share your concern. The information you provide will be evaluated to determine what action is necessary to address the situation. If necessary, the committee will contact the individual to provide assistance. Only in extenuating circumstances will the committee identify you when talking with the person you are concerned about.
I’m worried about someone I know, but I don’t think it’s serious enough to say anything about. What should I do? I don’t want to get him or her in trouble.
It may not seem serious to you, but you may only know part of the story. Remember this phrase: “It may be nothing, but…” Your concern may turn out to be nothing, but it also may be something very important. Let our committee decide if the person you know needs assistance. If you share your concern with us, you will not get the person in trouble; you will allow us to help him or her.
Do I need to have evidence or proof that something is wrong with someone?
No, you do not need to have evidence to share a concern. Oftentimes if something doesn’t seem right, or you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, your concern needs to be shared.
How do I identify a violent person?
You don’t need to try to identify a violent person. All you need to look for is a change in someone’s behavior that seems odd or unusual for that person. Here are some typical indicators of potential concern that someone might need assistance.
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What if I am wrong about someone?
The committee will review all concerns that are shared. If your concern turns out to be nothing, nothing will happen to the person, and nothing will happen to you. If you intentionally create a false report, you may be subject to University and legal sanctions.
Should I talk to the person first and tell him/her that I’m sharing my concern?
You do not need to tell the person you are sharing information. Let the committee review the situation, and the team will address it with him/her if necessary.
Will the person know that I shared information about him/her? I don’t want him/her to think I "tattled."
We try to keep your identity private, but we can not guarantee that your identity will remain confidential. The committee, in conjunction with the UNCG Police, will work with you to ensure your safety through the process.
Can I make an anonymous report?
You are encouraged to identify yourself because you can assist the police if clarification or additional information is needed. Anonymous entries will be evaluated based on the information provided. However, providing incomplete information may not allow the individual to receive the help or resources needed.
As a University, can’t you just make people leave campus if they are a problem?
When people remain part of the UNCG community, on-campus resources are available to them, and campus administrators are in contact with them to provide support they might not have if they were removed from campus. If the situation warrants removing the person from campus, the appropriate steps will be taken to do so. Removal from campus is only implemented in certain situations and done after proper information has been gathered and reviewed.
What if something happens off campus that I am concerned about?
If you are aware of concerning behavior happening off campus that could affect the safety of the UNCG community, please share your concern with the UNCG Police.
If someone who has been reviewed by the Threat Assessment Team leaves the area, do you continue to monitor him/her?
If the situation warrants reviewing the case after the subject leaves the area, the police will continue to do so. It is important to remember that when the subject has relationships in his/her life, there is a lesser chance for violence to occur. A failure to communicate or interact with a subject encourages problems to fester, which could lead to violence.
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What should I do if I have concerns about a student?
You will find pertinent data and general advice in this memorandum. What is most important to remember is that trained colleagues are standing by to help. The University Police will respond to any act or threat of violence. The Dean of Students Office is authorized to impose an immediate suspension (pending a hearing) if a student engages in threatening or disruptive behavior. And, the Counseling and Testing Center professionals can initiate a mandatory evaluation process for students who pose a "direct threat" to self or others.
Students must be treated fairly and responsibly-just as staff and faculty members would expect if they were the subject of comparable inquiry-but the campus is not powerless or reluctant to act decisively when threats arise. Our overall process in this regard is managed by the campus Student Safety and Concerns Team. You may reach the team by contacting Dean of Students Brett Carter, 334-5514. In emergencies call the campus police first 334-4444, (emergency number).Are more students coming to college with mental disorders?
Probably yes. Caution is required because increases in counseling center visits and use of psychotropic medications may mean contemporary students are more willing to seek help for mental illness. In any event, college health center directors have been calling particular attention to larger numbers of students reporting the characteristics of clinical depression. A 2004 American College Health Association study found that forty-five percent of the students surveyed "felt so depressed" that it was "difficult to function." Nearly 1 in 10 students reported that such feelings occurred "9 or more times" in the past school year. Likewise, about 10% of college students report they "seriously considered suicide" and about 1.4% reported they had attempted suicide (Morton Silverman, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Chicago; 2006 presentation at the University of Vermont Conference on Legal Issues in Higher Education).
How widespread is suicide among college students?
Multiple studies have found that college students commit suicide at half the rate of their non-student peers. One of the most cited surveys "found an overall student suicide rate of 7.5 per 100,000, compared to the national average of15 per 100,000 in a sample matched for age, race and gender" (Silverman, et al.,l997, "The Big Ten Student Suicide Study: A 10-year study of suicides on Midwestern university campuses," Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior 27:285-303).
Generally, the national suicide rate for teenagers and young adults has been decliningafter an extraordinary increase since the 1950s. More baseline studies pertaining to college students are needed, but experts believe the suicide rate in that group has been declining as well.Shouldn't we routinely remove depressed students, especially if they report suicidal ideation?
No, unless a threat or act of violence is involved. A 2006 article by Paul S. Appelbaum, Professor and Director of the Division of Psychiatry, Law, and Ethics at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (and a past President of the American Psychiatric Association) highlights some the practical issues involved:
No matter how uncommon completed suicides are among college students, surveys suggest that suicidal ideation and attempts are remarkably prevalent. Two large scale studies generated nearly identical findings. Roughly 10 percent of college student respondents indicated that they had thought about suicide in the past year, and 1.5 percent admitted to having made a suicide attempt. Combining data from the available studies suggests that the odds that a student with suicidal ideation will actually commit suicide are 1,000 to 1. Thus policies that impose restrictions on students who manifest suicidal ideation will sweep in 999 students who would not commit suicide for every student who will end his or her life with no guarantee that the intervention will actually reduce the risk of suicide in this vulnerable group. And even if such restrictions were limited to students who actually attempt suicide, the odds are around 200 to 1 against the schools having acted to prevent a suicidal outcome. (Psychiatric Services: "Depressed? Get Out" July 2006, Vol. 57, No.7, 914-916).
Aside from unjustified removal of thousands of individuals-including some of our best
and most creative students-routine dismissals for reported depression or suicidal
ideation would also discourage students from seeking professional help. Good policy,
good practice, and adherence to state and federal laws protecting people with disabilities
require professional individualized assessment and a fair procedure before students or
employees can be removed on the ground that they have a mental disability that poses a
"direct threat" to themselves or others.
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Is there an association between mental illness and violence?
Research shows some association between severe mental illness and violence, especially when mental illness is accompanied by substance abuse. The 1994 American Psychiatric Association "Fact Sheet on Violence and Mental Illness contains the following observation:
People often fear what they do not understand, and for many of us, mental illnesses fall into that category. This fear ...[often] stems from the common misconception that the term 'mental illness' is a diagnosis, and that all mental illnesses thus have similar symptoms, making all people who suffer with them equally suspect and dangerous ... Recent research has shown that the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses. However, there is a certain small subgroup of people with severe and persistent mental illnesses who are at risk of becoming violent.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services document "Understanding Mental Illness: Fact Sheet" (April20, 2007) contains the observation that "[c]ompared with the risk associated with the combination of male gender, young age, and lower socioeconomic status, the risk of violence presented by mental disorder is modest." Such a "modest" correlation won't be sufficient to draw conclusions about the future behavior 3 of any particular student. Again, individualized assessment will be imperative, focusing on a specific diagnosis, demonstrable behavior, compliance in taking prescribed medications, patterns of substance abuse, and any recent traumatic events or stresses, among other factors.
How can I identify potentially violent students?
This is not a task to be undertaken alone. Expertise is available on campus to help. See the contact information below and in our first answer. It is important to resist the temptation to try to "profile" potentially violent students based on media reports of past shootings. The 2003 National Research Council [NRC] report Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence (a project undertaken by the Councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine) contains the following guidance:One widely discussed preventive idea is to develop methods to identify likely offenders in instances of lethal school violence or school rampages ... The difficulty is that ... [t]he offenders are not that unusual; they look like their classmates at school. This has been an important finding of all those who have sought to investigate these shootings. Most important are the findings of the United States Secret Service, which concluded:
- There is no accurate or useful profile of 'the school shooter."
- Attacker ages ranged from 11-21.
- They came from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds.
- They came from a range of family situations, from intact families with numerous ties to the community to foster homes with histories of neglect.
- The academic performance ranged from excellent to failing.
- They had a range of friendship patterns from socially isolated to popular.
- Their behavioral histories varied, from having no observed behavioral problems to multiple behaviors warranting reprimand and/or discipline.
- Few attackers showed any marked change in academic performance, friendship status, interest in school, or disciplinary problems prior to their attack.
Students and adults who know the student who is the subject of the threat assessment inquiry should be asked about communications or other behaviors that may indicate the student of concern's ideas or intent. The focus of these interviews should be factual:
- What was said?
- To whom?
- What was written?
- To whom?
- What was done?
- When and where did this occur?
- Who else observed this behavior?
- Did the student say why he or she acted as they did?
Bystanders, observers, and other people who were there when the student engaged in threatening behaviors or made threatening statements should be queried about whether any of these behaviors or statements concerned or worried them. These individuals should be asked about changes in the student's attitudes and behaviors. Likewise, they should be asked if they have become increasingly concerned about the student's behavior or state of mind.
However, individuals interviewed generally should not be asked to characterize the student or interpret meanings of communications that the student may have made. Statements such as "I think he's really dangerous" or "he said it with a smile, so I knew that he must be joking" may not be accurate characterizations of the student's intent, and therefore are unlikely to be useful to the threat assessment team.
Proper threat assessment is a team effort requiring expertise from experienced professionals, including law enforcement officers. Threat assessment on our campus is done by the Threat Assessment Team, headed by Major Paul Lester, 334-5963 and Dean of Students Brett Carter, 334-5514. Faculty and staff members should contact the Threat Assessment Team whenever they believe a student may pose a risk of violence to self or others. If in doubt seek a threat assessment. In an emergency, contact the University Police immediately 334-4444.
An effort at conversation is generally advisable. Students are often oblivious to the impressions they make. Careful listening and courteous dialogue-perhaps with participation by a department chair or academic advisor-will often resolve the problem. At a minimum, the discussion may prove valuable in any subsequent threat assessment process.
Please do not give assurances of confidentially. A student who appears to pose a threat to self or others needs to be referred for help and supervision. Professors should not abrogate their traditional role as guides and mentors, but they must not assume the responsibilities of therapists or police officers.
If you feel uncomfortable talking directly with a student, another tool for your use is the Starfish for Faculty and Staff. Starfish EARLY ALERT is an early warning and student tracking system at UNCG that will take a more holistic approach to student success rather than concentrating solely on students with classic at-risk characteristics. Starfish is linked (http://excellence.uncg.edu/starfish/faculty.asp) through Blackboard and relies on reporting by the campus community to identify students who need additional academic support. A staff member will follow up with each student.
One danger in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings would be a climate of fear and distance between professors and students, especially students who seem odd, eccentric, or detached. Research on violence prevention suggests schools and colleges need more cross-generational contact, not less. The NRC report stated that:
In the course of our interviews with adolescents, we are reminded once again of how "adolescent society," as James S. Coleman famously dubbed it 40 years ago, continues to be insulated from the adults who surround it ... The insularity of adolescent society serves to magnify slights and reinforce social hierarchies; correspondingly, it is only through exchange with trusted adults that teens can reach the longer-term view that can come with maturity. [W]e could not put it better than the words of a beloved long-time teacher [at one of the schools studied]: ''The only real way of preventing [school violence] is to get into their heads and their hearts.
Getting into the "heads and hearts" of students goes beyond individual conversations. It entails fostering a community of caring, defined not by codes of silence or barriers of indifference, but by an active sense of mutual responsibility. This critical endeavor depends upon the faculty and staff. Now more than ever they must demonstrate skills in reaching outward, not retreating inward.The UNCG Cares Program seeks to create the 'community of caring' by training faculty and staff to engage students through active listening, recognition of signs of distress, and appropriate referral. To sign up for the training or to have the training brought to your department, please contact Assistant Dean of Students Amy Jones at 334-5514, firstname.lastname@example.org.Our University has a wealth of resources to assist students. Please don't hesitate to make use of them in addressing concerns.
• Many thanks to Gary Pavela of the University of Maryland for much of the language and expertise contained in this document. Used with his permission, August 2007.
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