By Elizabeth Lehman
It was a cold, windy Monday morning in April 2007 when Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University became the site of an unprecedented mass homicide.
In the wake of the tragedy, universities across the country changed the way they handled campus safety and prevention of school shootings.
“Implementing Behavioral Threat Assessment on Campus: A Virginia Tech Demonstration Project,” a book released by Virginia Tech in 2009, detailed the university’s efforts to implement threat assessment. The book was released in hopes of helping other institutions develop and implement their own policies and programs.
“Just as the Columbine High School attack in 1999 served to galvanize efforts toward understanding and preventing K-12 school shootings, so, too, has the 2007 attack at Virginia Tech served to galvanize campus safety efforts and to focus the nation’s attention on the issue of preventing campus shootings,” the book’s introduction said.
After the Virginia Tech shooting, Youngstown State University implemented the Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT).
Nicole Kent-Strollo is the director of student outreach and support and chairs the new incarnation of the former BIT, now called the CARE (Concern – Assessment – Referral – Education) Team. She said the original BIT was a result of the Virginia Tech shooting.
“You can’t prevent everything,” Kent-Strollo said. “That did give us the incentive to kind of bring these teams together.”
Kent-Strollo’s position in student outreach and support was created to designate a person who could proactively reach out to students and network with the other team members to get more information and look for solutions.
“It was something I had really a huge passion for, keeping our campus safe and our students safe and healthy as much as we possibly can, and keeping very proactive with that, versus waiting for something bad to happen. That was something that was really huge for everybody involved,” Kent-Strollo said.
Her position with student outreach began in January. When fall semester 2017 began, the BIT evolved into the CARE Team.
After attending a National Behavioral Intervention Team Association conference with Ann Jaronski, director of student counseling and member of the CARE Team, Kent-Strollo decided a new name would better align with the goals of the team.
A speaker at the conference mentioned the name “CARE Team.” Kent-Strollo said they thought the term “behavioral intervention” might sound too serious and deter people from reaching out.
“We wanted it to be something that was a little bit more welcoming and to let everyone on campus know that we truly care about people here,” Kent-Strollo said.
The 2017-18 CARE Team Policies and Procedures Manual outlines the mission of the team:
“The Youngstown State University CARE Team engages in proactive and collaborative approaches to identify, assess and mitigate risks associated with concerning behaviors or thoughts. By partnering with members across campus, the CARE Team strives to promote individual student, faculty and staff wellbeing and success while prioritizing community safety.”
Departments represented within the CARE Team include the police department, counseling, housing, the administration and multicultural affairs.
The CARE Team goes beyond being a behavioral assessment team, frequently reaching out to students with a wide range of issues.
“Any student can be referred for any issue. It can be as simple as homesickness to suicidal thoughts, the whole gamut. It might even be someone who doesn’t have money for food, who doesn’t have a home … with any student that [is] really in need, but it really [isn’t] solely academic,” Kent-Strollo said.
The team can connect students with the campus food pantry or help students find professional attire to wear to job interviews, Kent-Strollo said.
The CARE Team can refer students to resources off campus.
To refer someone to the team, a person can go to the CARE Team website or they can call Kent-Strollo directly. Her personal cell phone number is printed on the posters for the team hanging up around campus.
“I think some people look at me like I’m kind of crazy because I have my number everywhere, but this job doesn’t work if I’m not accessible,” Kent-Strollo said. “I don’t mind doing that at all, that was part of the job when I took it.”
Kent-Strollo said if someone is considering contacting the CARE Team, but are hesitant, they should remember it is the responsibility of every member of the campus community to report any concern, so issues can be dealt with as early as possible.
“While serious matters obviously need brought to the attention of senior leadership responsible for overall campus safety, most of the time, referrals simply alert us to students in need of ‘a helping hand’ or other type of assistance,” Kent-Strollo said.
Kent-Strollo said the CARE Team is a way to help further the culture of community on campus at YSU.
“I hope students get used to someone reaching out to them and not thinking it’s odd. On this campus, we care about you,” she said.