At the University of Colorado, a team of professionals from housing, police, student affairs and other departments meets on a weekly basis to review tips it receives about "students of concern."
More than ever, professors, academic advisers, students and others on the campus are encouraged to report students to the "student of concern team" if they notice warning signs such as writing or talking about suicide, extended absences from class, fascination with violent video games or making threats of harm.
The university has even created a new "student of concern senior case manager" position, which will likely be filled by June, said Christina Gonzales, associate vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of students.
She expects a second case manager will eventually be hired because the number of reports is increasing as the campus does a better job of getting the word out about the student of concern team.
Campus safety protocols are once again in the spotlight as the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth evacuated its campus Friday morning after confirming that Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a registered student at the school. Classmates of the bombing suspect, who was taken into custody Friday, told the Associated Press that Tsarnaev was on the campus this week after the explosions that killed three people and wounded more than 180 others.
His brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed early Friday while attempting to escape police.
During a long night of violence Thursday into Friday, the brothers killed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer, creating an "active shooter" situation on the campus.
CU police spokesman Ryan Huff said officers go through annual "active shooter" training, when officers are aided by actors who play the role of a gunman and victims. The department first began the training scenarios soon after the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.
"It's important training to have, and we hope it's training we never use," Huff said.
The university also has an emergency text messaging notification system. There are 34,017 CU students and employees signed up to receive the alerts, according to Huff.
Programs like the student of concern team, which has been around for two years at the CU campus, serve as a first line of defense for noticing possibly problematic students. Members of the program, who have psychologists and attorneys consulting with them, can intervene by linking students up with tutors, counselors, academic advisers and other support services.
Years ago, the common practice on college campuses was to encourage seemingly troubled students to seek out counseling, perhaps even walk them to the counseling center. But college campuses can be challenged by student privacy and medical confidentiality laws that prevent various professionals from communicating with one another, or involving parents, when serious warning signs emerge.
Some colleges became increasingly concerned about how to handle student warning signs in the aftermath of the suicide of Elizabeth Shin, the 19-year-old MIT student who died after setting herself on fire in her dorm room in 2000. For months, Shin had repeatedly threatened suicide and used a knife to slash her arms.
In the first year of CU's student of concern team, members received 200 referrals. In the past year, the team has fielded 400, according to Gonzales.
"The primary reason for the increase is now people know they have a place to refer students," she said.
When the team receives referrals about troubled students, it is not bound by therapist-client confidentiality rules and has more flexibility to get involved and share information about behavior observations and noted changes. In some cases -- if a student has attempted suicide, for example -- the team will reach out to the students' parents.
"It's a hub where information can be reported to a group, and if it's observable behavior, we can share it with other partners on campus," Gonzales said.
Leading up to the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, several people on the campus noticed disturbing signs exhibited by gunman Seung-Hui Cho. During the shooting rampage, Cho killed 32 people and injured 17 others before committing suicide.
Cho had been removed from a poetry class after a faculty member described his writing as intimidating. His roommate had noted odd behavior, saying Cho appeared never to go to class or read a book during his senior year and would sit in a rocker by the window and stare out at the lawn.
James Holmes, the Aurora theater shooting suspect, was a Ph.D. student in neuroscience at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus who was withdrawing from the university. His performance had declined and he failed a key oral exam in June 2012, the month before the shooting, which killed 12 people and injured 58 others.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or firstname.lastname@example.org.