Security can take a holistic approach to training to minimize incidence and impact of violence, says Heidi Hankwitz.

Can security and staff be trained on the guiding principles of respect, service and safety?

 Sure. Take, for example, today’s university campuses where such a mindset should be seen as part of the broader mission of any institution of higher education, namely to create a context in which all campus community members can thrive both academically and personally.

Emphasizing such a philosophy can instill a values base and awareness among staff, faculty, students, security and visitors while reducing interpersonal conflicts and potentially disruptive or even dangerous situations. Involving all staff and stakeholders in this process will increase proactive measures in identifying potential problems, reporting them and taking the appropriate corrective action.

Community members can become uneasy in an environment where disrespectful behavior is commonplace and safety is not prioritized. Imagine a visitor on campus witnessing any of the following typical disruptive situations on campus: a young couple arguing at the student union; an intoxicated, rowdy student harassing fans from the visiting school at a basketball game; a homeless person aggressively panhandling outside the school library; a student arguing vehemently with a professor about a failing grade; a new pledge being hazed outside a fraternity house; news crews on campus covering a story about a female student who was raped in the dormitory.

A response that values respect and safety for all cannot only prevent occurrences from escalating but will convey a different message when someone witnesses such disruptions. Policies directing values-based procedures that are understood campus-wide are keys to promoting safety throughout the campus.

Violence Prevention, Safety Promotion

The prevalence of campus violence ranges widely due to both the underreporting that skews official statistics, as well as the use of differing definitions in data collection methodologies and reporting surveys. As a result, data indicates that only a minority of college and university students experience violence on campus. According to the National Probability Sample Study, a nationally representative survey of college students done by the Core Institute of Southern Illinois University, roughly 17 percent of students reported experiencing some form of violence or harassment in the previous year.

Security and safety executives can motivate a more holistic approach in preventing violence. Educating students and staff to productively respond to hostility and threats of violence is crucial. Ongoing training efforts, which include problem solving and incident review, provide a necessary structure to prevent future problems.

Responses to violence on campus often focus on specific incidents and rely on disciplinary measures of the campus justice system. Such efforts are essential to maintain a safe environment, and strong enforcement certainly sends a clear message about an institution’s intolerance for violent and disruptive behavior. A comprehensive, ongoing approach to violence, however, also includes complementary measures aimed at early prevention and mitigation. An ongoing training process based on overall safety promotion can help reduce both the probability of harm and the likelihood of a successful lawsuit, while also enhancing the overall campus learning environment.

Campuses and their security officials must seek to minimize the broad spectrum of factors that contribute to violence and safety issues. These factors can often create a snowball effect, beginning with something as simple as campus community members feeling as though they are treated in a disrespectful, indifferent, even inappropriate manner.

Maya Angelou once wrote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Campus security staff has the opportunity to ensure that all community members – from students, to staff and faculty, to parents, alumni and visitors – feel as though they are in an environment where the values of respect, service and safety are so fundamentally important that they are to be embedded in the overall culture of the institution.