U., SLCC have teams ready to help troubled students

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 12 2011 12:03 p.m. MST

Peggy Wilson, at far right, and other members of the Coalition of Utah Progressives hold a candlelight vigil on the south steps of the Utah State Capitol on Wednesday night for the victims of Saturday's fatal shooting in Arizona.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

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TAYLORSVILLE — It began last February when faculty and administrators at Pima Community College suspended Jared Loughner and finally expelled him in October. He was told not to return until he was no longer a threat to himself or others.

Most colleges and universities strengthened their security after the shooting rampage on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007 that left 32 dead.

All campuses of Salt Lake Community College created a new program to both protect students and help them. The Early Alert Response Team encourages the faculty to refer students who need help because of depression, anxiety or outbursts.

"Threatening, odd, disruptive — any of those would qualify for something that would be brought forward to us," said Shane Crabtree, director of Public Safety at SLCC.

A group of administrators review e-mails, phone calls, even English papers to decide if there is a threat. If the student has broken a rule in the Student Code of Conduct, then he or she is referred to the Dean of Students Office. That office can place a hold on registration until that student receives counseling or medical help.

SLCC has a contract with UHP for three campuses and several police departments for the others.

"If we feel there's a threat to anybody on our campuses, we're going to share information with other law enforcement agencies," Crabtree said. "We'll accept any type of complaint. If somebody feels a little nervous then obviously, we need to make sure that everybody's safe."

"Unfortunately there's a lot of stigma around mental health and seeking services," said Lauren Weitzman, director of the Counseling Center at the University of Utah. "We find that often students don't want to talk to anybody about what's on their mind because they're just afraid."

The U's Counseling Center — one of the larger ones in the U.S. — offers treatment for individuals and couples and offers group counseling for 12 sessions each year.

"College is an interesting time. Folks are still in the process of becoming adults, lots of transitions they're experiencing. We also find that young adults, college students in their early 20s, are at risk for depression or bi-polar illness surfacing for the first time," Weitzman said.

Most come themselves. Others are referred.

"A general warning sign is just any change in behavior for what is typical for that student," Weitzman said. "I think unfortunately what happens in the classroom, it might be a student who would be more disruptive, perhaps not allowing other students to speak their mind in class or share their opinions, certainly more overt things. Oftentimes, if a student is really struggling, that might surface in the residence halls, if they're living here or in a classroom or in other places. It's kind of like having more sets of eyes out there."

When a student on the U. campus becomes disruptive or threatening, there is now a team available to help him or her. After Virginia Tech, a new behavioral intervention specialist, counselors, a disability specialist, the dean of students, a faculty rep, an attorney and campus police meet every week.

"If that team's working well, if we're doing our jobs, then everything seems to be going fine because we're able to intervene before things become too problematic," Weitzman said.

Both schools report that they work to protect student privacy and a high percentage of students who need help, receive it and return to classes.

e-mail: cmikita@desnews.com

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