Strong communities are safer communities. This principle guides North Central College in its efforts to foster a campus culture where people look out for one another and take action when they notice something that jeopardizes the safety of the community or any member of it.
“We know there are many threats to safety and that college campuses are not immune to those threats,” says Kimberly Sluis, vice president for student affairs and dean of students at North Central College. “National statistics on suicide, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking among college students are staggering.”
According to the American Association of Suicidology, 14 people ages 15-24 die by suicide every day in the United States, making suicide the second leading cause of death among this population group.i Additional statistics for college students are equally troubling, with more than 1,000 college students taking their own lives each year.ii Also, most students who attempt or complete suicide do not actually want to die; many who are suicidal share warnings with those around them about their plans. iii
“Having a community well-equipped to notice and respond to students who may be having emotional difficulty is particularly important,” says Sluis. “Over the last several years, North Central College has invested significantly in community education and wellness center resources. In fall 2015, we added another full-time, licensed clinical professional counselor to better meet demand for counseling services.” Because the College’s Dyson Wellness Center operates on a short-term counseling model, similar to most college campuses, the counseling team works to connect students with local resources when student needs may be beyond the scope of the Wellness Center.
Programs designed to educate students, faculty and staff about student mental health have created a more aware and supportive community where faculty, staff and other students are referring students for support and care. North Central’s Early Alert system, reimagined in 2014, results in an average of over 200 referrals each term, allowing for follow-up and intervention when early signs of student distress are noticed.
“The North Central College community has been incredibly active in looking out for one another and intervening or referring when the situation warrants. The actions of many have resulted in just the kind of safer and stronger community we seek to cultivate,” Sluis says.
The College’s efforts related to the prevention of all power-based personal violence, including sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating and domestic violence and stalking, have been equally broad-reaching. According to a national study conducted in 2009, 19 percent of female undergraduate students experienced attempted or completed sexual assault.iv While male students experience sexual assault less frequently, a 2007 study found that more than 6 percent of college men experienced attempted or completed sexual assault.v
Research also shows that bystander intervention is effective in combatting sexual assault and other power-based personal violence.vi This research prompted North Central College to start a bystander intervention program called Green Dot in 2012. At the time, North Central was the second Green Dot campus in the state of Illinois.
The Green Dot strategy empowers members of its community to actively contribute to a campus where violence of any kind is not tolerated. To date, more than 300 North Central students and 85 faculty and staff have participated in bystander intervention training through Green Dot. This cadre of bystanders commits to taking action to prevent power-based personal violence at North Central.
Bystander intervention extends beyond those formally trained through Green Dot workshops. The concept of bystander intervention is introduced to all first-year students as part of new student orientation. In addition, all new students (first-year, transfer and graduate) are required to complete an online training module that introduces the concept of bystander intervention and the responsibility of all members of the North Central College community to take care of one another. Click here for more information on this program.
Many of the above initiatives have been supported by a three-year, $275,000 U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women campus partnership grant the College received in 2013. These funds also have supported a confidential violence education and prevention coordinator, who works in the Dyson Wellness Center and provides individualized consultation and support for faculty, staff and student survivors of power-based personal violence. This coordinator also organizes and facilitates dozens of programs, including activities during Sexual Assault Awareness Month each April, and educational initiatives on the prevention of sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating/domestic violence and stalking. During the 2014-2015 academic year, 21 educational programs on these topics were offered to the North Central College community.
“Part of creating a safe community requires that we nurture a culture where individuals feel comfortable to report when they or someone they care about has been victimized,” Sluis says. “Over the last five years, North Central has engaged in a campaign to ensure students understand the options for reporting both to the College and to the local authorities.”
Reporting options are addressed in educational programming, posters, postcards, an online presence and the Student Handbook. In addition, members of the Dyson Wellness Center staff—where students often go to explore their options confidentially—have been trained on reporting possibilities and are prepared to assist students in exploring all their options for getting support and seeking justice. If students wish to make an anonymous report to inform the College about their experience, this also can be done at the Dyson Wellness Center. The College uses confidential reports to evaluate trends that need to be addressed and includes these reports in its annual crime statistics shared with the campus community and reported to the U.S. Department of Education. Staff in Campus Safety and Residence Life also receive regular training on how to sensitively receive a report, while offering support and appropriate resources and options.
“It is critical that if we are going to make progress in our efforts to eliminate violence, we must nurture an environment where reporting is encouraged and where those who make a report have access to the support and assistance they deserve and need,” says Sluis. “Once a report is made, it is critical that all individuals involved are treated with fairness and respect.”
In the last several years, dozens of faculty and staff have been trained in responding to and investigating reports of power-based personal violence. Next week, the College’s first full-time Title IX coordinator will begin work on campus, continuing efforts to create a campus environment where violence of any type is not tolerated, and where individuals who have been harmed feel comfortable and supported in coming forward to report.
“Creating a safe campus requires all our best efforts. We have to look out for one another and act when something jeopardizes the safety of any one of us,” says Sluis. That means checking in with a student, friend or colleague, she notes. Other times it may mean calling Campus Safety or the Naperville Police to report something we observe, completing an Early Alert referral, or encouraging a student to personally report something.
“Each of these actions, alongside the College’s investments in student safety, fosters a stronger sense of community, which in turn ensures a safer campus for us all.”
iiAmerican College Health Association
ivKrebs C.P., Linquist C.H., Warner T.D., Fisher B.S., Martin SL. (2009). College women’s experiences with physically forced, alcohol- or other drug-enabled, and drug-facilitated sexual assault before and since entering college. Journal of American College Health, 57(6):639-647.
vKrebs, C.P., Lindquist, C.H., Warner, T.D.., Fisher, B.S., & Martin, S.L. (2007). The Campus Sexual Assault Study. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/221153.pdf
viCoker, A. L., Bush, H. M., Fisher, B. S., Swan, S. C., Williams, C. M., Clear, E. R., & DeGue, S. (2015). Multi-college bystander intervention evaluation for violence prevention. American journal of preventive medicine.