College counseling centers face ‘perfect storm’, expert says

By Pam G. Dempsey/Investigative Journalism Education Consortium — More than 20 million college students across the nation will start school this month, just weeks after James Holmes, a Colorado graduate student, allegedly shot and killed 12 people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Holmes had sought counseling from the University of Colorado at the University of Colorado and at one time, was a successful applicant to the University of Illinois. In another University of Illinois connection, Steven Kazmierczak was a student at the Urbana campus at the time of the 2008 shooting at Northern Illinois University where he shot and  killed five people. With student enrollment on the rise and with students coming in with more severe mental health issues, campus counseling centers are seeing an increase in a demand for services. Carla McCowan is director of the counseling center at the University of Illinois’ Urbana campus.

Sidebar: Behavioral Intervention Teams

By Mary Beth Versaci/For CU-CitizenAccess — A Behavioral Intervention Team is made up of representatives from offices across the University of Illinois campus meets once a week to discuss students whose behavior can be considered disruptive and concerning to the rest of the campus community. This behavior oftentimes does not require disciplinary action, but it has reached a level of concern and needs to be addressed before it escalates, said Ken Ballom, dean of students. “Becoming more aware of the student and offering support services could prevent future escalation and crisis,” Ballom said. “The role of the Behavioral Intervention Team is to review student behavior on campus that appears disruptive or destructive and intervene for safety and support.”

This team is just one requirement of the 2008 Campus Security Enhancement Act, which calls for all Illinois colleges and universities to have a violence prevention plan and threat assessment teams.

This act was developed as part of a report commissioned by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in response to the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting. The University of Illinois has a Campus Violence Prevention Plan which, among other things, establishes two threat assessment teams, one for students and one for faculty, staff and members of the public.

Lack of evacuation plans leaves students, staff unprepared

By Mary Beth Versaci/For CU-CitizenAccess — On April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 students in two separate attacks on the Virginia Tech campus, one in a residence hall and the other in a classroom. On Feb. 14, 2008, Steven Kazmierczak entered a lecture of about 150 students at Northern Illinois University and shot 26 people, killing five of them. If a shooter were to walk into a classroom on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus, the University is ready with a campus-wide Emergency Operations Plan , but no campus mandate requires each individual campus building to have an all-hazards evacuation plan. Without these Building Emergency Action Plans, which require buildings to plan emergency responses for situations ranging from natural disasters and fires to bomb threats and shooters, building staff are not prepared to respond to an emergency like the presence of a gunman in a classroom.

Campus lacks resources to meet demand for mental health services, safety initiatives

For the past five months, journalism students and faculty have examined the state of mental health treatment at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus. Their work was part of an examination of mental health programs conducted by the Investigative Journalism Education Consortium, a network of journalism faculty and students at Midwest universities and colleges that is funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation based in Chicago. (See full package here)

The consortium reviewed services at campus counseling centers in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri. The review found that centers often fell far short of the number of mental health providers recommended by the International Association of Counseling Services. More than 10,000 students on the Illinois campus seek help from counseling center, which has 20 full-time counselors.