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What's a college to do when it discovers a troubled student?

Lawrence Journal-World

Say you're teaching a class at Kansas University, and you're worried about a particular student.

Maybe a passage in a paper seems particularly dark or talks about suicide. Maybe someone notices a social media post that looks like a threat. Maybe a student unleashes a loud, verbal attack after receiving a failing grade. Where to call?

Definitely 785-864-4060, says Frank DeSalvo, associate vice provost for student affairs.

That will alert KU's Student Conduct Review Team, a group of seven people who consider cases where students are exhibiting behavior that others may find alarming.

The group was formed in April 2008, about a year after a campus shooting at Virginia Tech University that left 33 people dead. DeSalvo, a member of the team, said the university wanted to pull together experts from a variety of areas of campus to get a sense about why certain behaviors might be occurring and the psychology behind them.

Andrew Shoemaker, associate director for KU's Academic Achievement and Access Center, is another team member. He said that while many universities — such as Arizona State, where he worked before coming to KU — had these teams in place, many more formed after the Virginia Tech shooting.

"I think Virginia Tech probably opened the eyes to a lot of different campuses," Shoemaker said.

A similar team at the University of Colorado considered the case of James Holmes, who now faces 24 counts of first-degree murder and 116 counts of attempted murder after a shooting July 20 in an Aurora, Colo., movietheater.

In that instance, according to the ABC affiliate in Denver, the team took no further action after Holmes began the process of dropping out of school around the same time as the review.

At KU, DeSalvo said, responses can vary depending on what the team finds. Upon receiving a call that someone is worried about a student, DeSalvo said some initial inquiries are made before convening the entire group.

In some cases, students simply don't know their behavior was improper, and the situation is quickly remedied, DeSalvo said.

"We tell them what they have done almost constitutes or about constitutes a threat, which is a criminal violation," he said. "We just say don't do it anymore and they comply. They don't realize how close they came to committing a crime."

Other instances involve relationships that need to be worked out, such as a potential stalking situation.

Rarely, a student is deemed to be an imminent danger to himself or others, DeSalvo said, and can be referred (involuntarily, in some cases) to the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. KU Police Capt. Schuyler Bailey is a member of the group, and can involve police if necessary, DeSalvo said.

Even if a student is no longer enrolled and is still a concern, DeSalvo said the group can ask police to drive by the student's residence and at least see what's going on.

"They'll talk with them for awhile," DeSalvo said. "They'll get in there and at least see what kind of condition the apartment is in and what kind of condition the student is in."

Shoemaker said each member of the team brings a different sort of specialty to the table when meeting with a student. His role, for example, is often to refer students with disabilities to a variety of services that can potentially assist with the situation, including offering note-takers, secluded testing rooms or other services.

"It's not a disciplinary thing," when the committee meets with a student, Shoemaker said. "It's more, 'We've heard some concerns. What can we do to help?'"

DeSalvo said calls are increasing as more people at KU hear about the service. In 2011, he fielded about 35 calls, some of which were situations that were resolved without involving the entire committee. And that's OK, he said, as it's always better to err on the side of caution.

"If you're wondering about whether or not to call us, that's the indicator to call us," DeSalvo said.

August 27, 2012 - 11:00am


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