June 23, 2008
60, Number 33
Who to call
In the coming months, the Threat Assessment Team will be promoting its role to groups around campus. In the meantime, if you need to speak with a team member, call one of the following representatives:
• Emory Police:
Craig Watson or Cheryl Elliott, 404-727-6115; or emergency line, 404-727-6111
• Campus Life:
• Student Counseling Services: Mark McLeod, 404-727-7450
• Faculty Staff Assistance Program: Paula Gomes or Robin Huskey, 404-727-4328
• General Counsel: Amy Adelman, 404-727-6011
• Human Resources:
Del King or Jeanne Thigpen, 404-727-7625 (University);
Sharon Mitchell, 404-686-2612 (Healthcare)
• University Communications:
Nancy Seideman or Elaine Justice, 404-727-6216
June 23, 2008
Team formed to balance safety, privacy
By Carol Clark
On the morning of April 16, 2007, Craig Watson received a phone call from his son, Chase, a student at Virginia Tech. “Chase said, ‘We’ve been told that there was a shooting and one person has been killed. I just wanted to let you know that I’m okay,’” recalls Watson, Emory’s chief of police.
“At the time he called me, nobody knew the magnitude of the event,” Watson says.
Within hours, the impact of the tragedy was being felt not just at Virginia Tech but around the country. The Virginia Tech gunman had a history of mental illness and troubling behavior, but myriad privacy laws had made university officials reluctant to share information. The long-simmering issue of how to keep institutions safe while protecting the privacy of individuals soon moved to the front burner on many campuses.
One way Emory responded was by creating a Threat Assessment Team: a 10-member panel of specialists from key areas throughout the University, including the police, Campus Life, Student Counseling Services, the Faculty Staff Assistance Program, the General Counsel, Human Resources and University Communications.
“This is about connecting the dots,” says Watson, who chairs the TAT (see Emory Profile). The panel serves as a collaborative
risk-management team, meeting regularly to confidentially review reports of disruptive or troubling behavior. “If anyone in the Emory community has any concerns about someone — whether it’s a student, faculty or staff member, or someone from outside the community — they can bring those concerns to us,” Watson says. “If we determine that action is necessary, we can make sure that the University responds appropriately and comprehensively.”
The Virginia Tech shooting was a rare, extreme event, and the media coverage helped create a distorted perception of mental illness, says Mark McLeod, director of the student counseling center and a member of the TAT.
“Throughout the country, there are more students coming to colleges and universities that have significant mental health and developmental issues, perhaps because there is earlier identification of these issues and better treatment,” McLeod says. He says it’s important to understand that just because a student behaves strangely or lacks social skills, it doesn’t mean the student is dangerous.
“From a mental health perspective, we need to worry more about signs of eating disorders or suicidal feelings,” says McLeod, who sees the TAT as a good opportunity to spread that message. “We’d love for the Emory community to be more aware of red flags for people at risk.”
Faculty sometimes assume that if a student confides in them, they cannot share any of the information because of privacy laws, says Amy Adelman, associate general counsel and a TAT member. “In reality, if you have concerns that a student might pose a risk to themselves or the community, that information can and should be brought to our attention. That doesn’t mean we’re throwing privacy laws out the window,” she adds, explaining that the TAT works in strict confidence. Names are revealed only on a need-to-know basis.
Students lead diffuse lives, making it easier to miss a pattern of behavior that could indicate they are in crisis, Adelman says. “A faculty member may see just one piece of the puzzle, while a roommate and a friend may see other pieces. The TAT is a way to bring the pieces together.”
The TAT also reviews concerns about faculty and staff members. “The threat could even be coming from someone outside of Emory, such as a domestic situation where a relationship is coming apart,” says Del King, associate vice president of human resources.
The Emory community of 11,000 students and 22,000 faculty and staff, spread over an open, bustling campus, is like a small city, King says. “When you get that many people together, of course you will have situations. The TAT brings together expertise from across the University to handle situations in a centralized, systematic way, rather than on an ad-hoc basis.”