|Members of the SBCT meet weekly to evaluate referrals. They receive eight to 14 new and follow up cases on average, but this week was the year’s high at 22.
One Friday in February 2010, a dean at Pima Community College (PCC) called the campus police to report a disturbing classroom performance by a student. The student had reacted strangely to the reading of a poem, the dean told an officer, and had said things about abortion, wars, killing people, and “why don’t we just strap bombs to babies.” Another student thought he might have a knife.
That disturbing tale, recounted in a police report, documented the first in a series of troubling incidents involving a single student: Jared Lee Loughner. A year later, he would become the sole suspect in the shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Gifford and 18 others in Tucson, Ariz.
Loughner quickly joined Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007, in a growing handful of students scrutinized in the wake of atrocity for their odd, erratic behavior. The schools that catalogued their behavior, but were slow to put it together, have been criticized.
“Everyone had a strand of a thread of what was going on,” said Mark Allen Miles, director of Clinical Services at the Counseling Center, in a recent interview. “It wasn’t until they were all put together that the spider web became evident.”
Once a week, a team of RIT administrators meets in a room on the second floor of the Student Alumni Union. The 11 members of the Student Behavior Consultation Team (SBCT) include representatives from the Student Health Center, Counseling Center, Residence Life, the Center for Women and Gender, Public Safety and Student Conduct. They review students who have exhibited troubling behavior, gather strands of information, and together, they plan a response. In extreme cases, their intervention could save RIT from tragedy.
Students can come to the SBCT’s attention after being detained by Public Safety, after being transported to a hospital, or after a staff member, professor or another student becomes concerned. In an average week, the team discusses 14 students; 200 in total last year.
“The number grows weekly,” said Dawn Soufleris, assistant vice president for Student Affairs and an SBCT co-chair.
The circumstances vary widely: some students are flagged when they disappear, threaten harm, exhibit signs of depression or even break a window. The team reads the initial report and reviews grades, patterns of absence and other reports. Then, they figure out what to do about it. The responses range as much as the circumstances.
Sometimes, the student’s behavior doesn’t warrant intervention. Sometimes, the response is just to have a resident advisor check in with the student. The resident advisor and the student may be oblivious to the extent of the SBCT’s concern. Sometimes, a representative from the SBCT will meet with the student to discuss their behavior. The representative can provide referrals to the Student Health Center, the Counseling Center or the Center for Women and Gender. Occasionally, the response leads to a withdrawal from RIT, a required leave of absence or a hospitalization.
Miles, who is a member of the team, recalls a student who displayed troubling signs during Orientation. “Based on complaints from his roommate, the Residence Life staff and Public Safety about behaviors he was showing, we had him brought over,” Miles said. “And, sure enough, he was indeed a paranoid schizophrenic who needed hospitalization. He was not willing to go, so we had him involuntarily committed.”
Teams like the SBCT have spread to other campuses, and some of them have followed RIT’s roughly 15-year-old model. Around the time that Loughner withdrew from PCC, in September, the school set up a three-member Student Behavior Assessment Committee. That was just four months before a shooting stopped the pulse of a nation.