“When people think of a college environment, they usually imagine a world of ideas and dialogue—a carefree, exciting time in young people’s lives,” says EDC’s Linda Langford. “They don’t like to imagine that any crime or violence occurs on college campuses.”
The truth is that most violence on campus doesn’t come from outside intruders slipping through the gates, but from within the campus community itself. An estimated 70 percent of violent acts on campus are perpetrated by the victims’ fellow students. On-campus violence can take many forms, including rape and sexual assault, fights, muggings, hazing, and hate crimes. Alcohol and drug use is one of many factors that can fuel these violent acts.
Langford is part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention at EDC. The center helps colleges and universities develop, implement, and evaluate interventions to keep their students safe. It offers workshops, trainings, technical assistance, Web content and print publications, and collaboration on college and community-partner program development.
In 2006 and 2007, the center helped the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) develop a plan for a national center for campus public safety. “We collaborate with national organizations, such as IACLEA, to teach campus-based professionals the knowledge and skills they need to engage in strategic planning for effective prevention,” says Langford. “By working with national groups and leaders, we can help shape professional practice broadly and reach as many campuses as possible.”
To guide its work, the center has developed an approach to violence prevention with roots in public health and community organizing, which helps colleges and universities tailor initiatives specific to their campus concerns. Preventing Violence and Promoting Safety in Higher Education Settings: Overview of a Comprehensive Approach guides campus organizers as they plan prevention strategies that address the multiple aspects of violence. The goal is to find lasting solutions that are supported by the local community, infrastructure, and systems.
The harmful tradition of hazing
While violence on campus, such as the shootings at Virginia Tech, receive plenty of media coverage, the more common forms of on-campus violence such as hazing receive less attention. Typical hazing practices include excessive alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, sleep deprivation, and forced sexual acts. Both physically and emotionally damaging, hazing can be fatal.
Kimberly Novak, director for student and campus community development at Arizona State University, uses the center’s work to inform and support her national efforts to eliminate hazing. Novak leads the Interdisciplinary Institute for Hazing Intervention, which brings together professionals and volunteers from around the country to receive training about how to prevent hazing—not just react to it.
Novak’s determination to change a culture of “tradition” that sets the stage for hazing stems from her experience as a Texas A&M student conduct officer. She worked there in 1997 when several cases involving student organizations and hazing made national headlines.
“When I talked to the students involved in the hazing incidents, they had very positive images of themselves as leaders,” says Novak. “I also learned that every single one of them had been hazed in high school or college. I started thinking that punishment alone was not going to prevent hazing from happening again.”
This realization led Novak to ultimately team with HazingPrevention.org to create the first interdisciplinary institute in 2008. She and Langford will both participate in the 2009 institute, held at Butler University in Indiana in June. Novak is also developing a hazing prevention training curriculum, which draws on the center’s approach and research-based principles.
“It’s very motivational for people from campuses to see that the principles that have worked for alcohol and drug use prevention can also work to prevent hazing,” Novak says. “EDC’s approach helps us train people from across disciplines to learn their role in preventing hazing and changing the campus culture. The concept of investing in prevention makes good sense.”
“People who do violence prevention work on campus really care about the safety and well-being of students,” Langford says. “It’s very satisfying to help them bridge the gap between research and practice, and to give them the tools to create effective programs to keep students safe.”
The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention is funded by the U.S. Department of Education.
Originally published on April 16, 2009