CU-Boulder's Students of Concern Team:
As college students face increasing pressure and stress, the University of Colorado has been working to connect them with campus resources through a group of administrators and staff members called the Students of Concern Team.
The team, which can include representatives of Division of Student Affairs, Residence Life, Office of Student Conduct, the CU Police Department, university counsel, Counseling and Psychological Services and Psychological Health and Psychiatry, started in 2011 to help mitigate risks associated with students who are exhibiting concerning behaviors.
Since its creation, the team's reach has grown. Last summer, Dean of Students Christina Gonzales for the first time presented information about the team to parents and students at CU orientation. The university has also increased marketing efforts to get the word out so that students, faculty members, employees and parents know where to go if they notice new and concerning behaviors in a student.
Referrals to the team have increased in the last year, Gonzales said, not because concerning behaviors are on the rise, but because more people understand the team's purpose. Last summer, the university hired a full-time case manager for the team to receive and review referrals, collect more information and update the interdisciplinary team during weekly meetings.
The goal of the team is to create a cross-campus network of people who may interact with the student and begin to notice cues or signs that something is wrong. It helps create a clearer sense of the "big picture," Gonzales said, when multiple departments on campus can talk about behaviors they've noticed in multiple aspects of a student's life.
The team is a "hub" for referrals, which come in by phone, an online reporting system and in person, and can gather additional experts or consultants for specific situations as needed, she said.
Erratic behavior, paranoia, threatening words or actions, classroom disruptions, sudden absences, alienation, change in hygiene and others are some examples of concerning behaviors, Gonzales said.
The group then tries to help the student in the form of campus or community resources before the concerning behaviors escalate to the level of a crisis, which can mean the student is a danger to him or herself, or to the campus.
The team will also speak with a student's parents in some situations, Gonzales said.
"We really want to reach them before they reach that high-crisis mode," Gonzales said. "It's confidential. We want to get them in and we want to make sure they can continue to be on campus to be successful."
Though it's hard to quantify the number of times the team has prevented an incident on campus, CU police Cmdr. Robert Axmacher said anecdotally, he's seen a dramatic drop in the number of student deaths since he started working on the Boulder campus in the late 1990s.
"For the first eight to 10 years, we were dealing with multiple instances of student death on campus each year due to either drug or alcohol overdose or suicide, and over the past few years, those incidents have become far less frequent," he said. "I know that we're doing good work."
Jeffrey Sun, a professor of educational leadership and law at the University of North Dakota, said he often uses CU's team as an example for other schools that are interested in starting their own.
In recent years, there's been an increase in mental illness and suicidal ideations among students, Sun said, and also more effort to support underserved and vulnerable populations.
"We see much more that college is high pressure, high stakes for some of these students," he said. "We've also noticed much more of what we call identity and development issues, when students feel out of place or are learning about themselves."
Many people speculate that groups like CU's gained in popularity after high-profile campus shootings such as those at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University.
But Gonzales said the groups began appearing on campuses nationally after Elizabeth Shin, a student at MIT, killed herself in 2000. Her parents sued the university for failing to take her depression seriously.
Higher education administrators began asking: Could Shin's death have been prevented if campus groups or agencies had worked together to get her help?
The 2012 Aurora theater shooting suspect, James Holmes, had just dropped out from his graduate studies at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.
While the Students of Concern Team's first priority is making sure the student is safe and healthy, it's difficult not to think about the wider implications of having a stable student body, Axmacher said.
"From a police perspective, we have done all sorts of things to enhance our response capability," he said. "The flip side to that coin and the more important side is the preventative piece. If you can get a team together, if you can identify students maybe having a difficult time and connect them with resources, then you never have to respond to those incidents."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106 or email@example.com.