NU To Add Staff Member To CAPS, Review Security

Elise Foley

By Elise Foley The Daily Northwestern

In response to last week’s Virginia Tech shootings, Northwestern administrators announced Tuesday that they are adding one staff member to Counseling and Psychological Services, and they will require students to submit emergency contact information starting next year.

The announcement came at a meeting in Norris University Center that brought together administrators, CAPS, Undergraduate Residential Life, campus religious groups and students to discuss NU’s response to the shootings. About 20 university staff members and about 10 students attended.

“Anyone who works in higher education was deeply affected by what happened,” said William Banis, vice president for student affairs. “The events at Virginia Tech raise a lot of issues about the safety of college campuses.”

CAPS was previously down one staff member, which increased wait times for students and limited programming. The additional staff member will help CAPS and NU to be more proactive about student mental health, Banis said.

“Instead of picking students out of the stream, we would like to prevent them from falling in the first place,” he said.

Starting in the fall, students will be required to submit emergency information including cell phone numbers and local addresses, Banis said. In a recent test, the administration found that only about 50 percent of students have provided the university with current emergency information, he said.

Another concern brought to light by the Virginia Tech shootings was the ability of universities to act when students are deemed dangerous to themselves or others. The university administration can act, but they depend on students to bring these issues to their attention, Banis said.

“It sounds corny, but when the troops are down, we need to depend on each other,” Banis said. “We work hard to have structures in place against these things, but are they fail proof? Of course not.”

Students should consider bringing concerns to the administration in serious cases because administrators are not as restricted as CAPS when it comes to confidentiality, Banis said. When someone is found to be dangerous or in violation of the Code of Student Conduct, they can be removed from campus.

CAPS also responds to students who are deemed unsafe, although they cannot remove a student from school directly, said Dr. Paulette Stronczek, a CAPS psychologist.

“Everyone in our community looks at ‘how do we catch our students when they have problems?'” Stronczek said. “In order to do our work, our work has to remain confidential, otherwise no one would come to us. If someone is in imminent danger to themselves or others, we break confidentiality to get them to a place where they are safe.”

The university is also reevaluating security policies in light of the shootings. Most plans have not yet been finalized, but the administration hopes to improve cell phone coverage and emergency notification, Banis said.

NU will continue its previous plans to increase campus safety, which “planned for the worst” but did not consider an incident like the Virginia Tech shootings, said University Police Chief Bruce Lewis. An emergency alarm system is being considered to notify students in case of emergency, he said.

“We have taken on some security measures before this, and we will take some from this,” Lewis said. “While we don’t want to overreact, we certainly are acting.”

Reach Elise Foley at [email protected]