Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Making College Safety a Factor in Decision Making

With National College Decision Day (May 1st), just around the corner, many students along with their parents are making the difficult decision on which college to attend in the fall. What factors play a role in this decision? For students it might be the academic reputation of the school, employment opportunities after graduation, and financial assistance. But what about campus safety? Can this also be a factor in the college decision?

Finding information on campus safety is easier than you’d expect. College campuses that receive Title IV funding from the Department of Education must comply with the Clery Act by collecting and publishing the last three years of their campus crime statistics as well as developing and implementing security policies for a safe campus. Statistics for each college and university are available to view on the Department of Education’s website.

sexual assault awareness month ribbon

With April designated National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month by President Obama, it reminds us that college-age women are at the greatest risk of an attempted or completed rape. While these statistics about sexual assaults should be captured accurately, some assaults remain unreported or misclassified. When that information is inaccurate, it leads to a false sense of personal security.  And while there are many factors that could be contributing to underreporting, it can be exacerbated by a campus culture that is still adjusting to Federal regulation regarding Clery reportable crimes.

The Department of Education believes school safety is a requirement to ensure students have access to education free from harm. The Department enforces colleges’ compliance through program reviews conducted by Federal Student Aid’s Clery Act Compliance Division and investigations by the Office of Civil Rights.  If Clery violations are found, the Department makes findings which the school must address and correct, in addition to potential financial penalties for those infractions.

Parents and students can investigate the reported safety of the campus not only through the Department’s website, but also by reviewing the college’s annual security report located on the college’s website.  Through program reviews and additional assistance, the Department is working with colleges and universities to improve reporting procedures and campus awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault.  Together, we are working to create a campus culture that is more supportive and safe for students.

Lauren Bloom is a budget analyst in Budget Service within the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development and works on the Student Aid Administration account.

Duncan Addresses Gun Violence in New “Ask Arne” Video Series

As a teacher and a parent, what our nation’s education leaders think, really matters to me. And with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about to begin a second term, it matters even more.

Today, we’re excited to announce the launch of a new #AskArne video interview series, where the Secretary addresses the hot topics and burning questions in education today. In light of the President’s announcement to address gun violence, the first episode, titled “Free from Fear,” focuses on gun violence, school safety, and out of school factors influencing student achievement.

For the #AskArne videos, the questions for the Secretary will be derived from feedback the Department receives via social media and through the outreach of EDs Teaching Ambassador Fellows.

The Fellows, who work for the Department for a year, play a key role in connecting with educators and other stakeholders around the country, and then connecting voices from the field with top federal policymakers, including Secretary Duncan. As an explanation, this year I am on sabbatical from teaching at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C. to work full-time at ED as part of this year’s team of Teaching Ambassador Fellows.

I hope you find this clip from our first interview informative and interesting, and with your feedback, we’re looking forward to future installments that will address the Department’s 2013 agenda and the topics that are on the minds of teachers, parents, students and stakeholders.

Submit your ideas and questions for future #AskArne episodes on Twitter, on Arne’s Facebook page or in the comments below.

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-13 school year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C.

Also, the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship is now accepting applications for its 2013-2014 cohort. More information can be found here.

Campus Safety Is Essential For A Successful Learning Environment: If You See Something, Say Something!

As a community college president for 16 years before being appointed the Under Secretary of Education, I wanted to do everything in my power to prevent violence on campus. Building trust among the campus constituencies with the campus chief of police was essential as a first step.

Blue light campus safety station

Photo courtesy of Howard University

According to a new report from the FBI and the U.S. Department of Education, we can do a lot more to keep our campuses safe. To do so, top experts say, requires the combined efforts of students, faculty, administrators and campus security, zero-tolerance for threats and harassment, and immediate reporting of concerns to campus or law enforcement officials who are trained in threat assessment.

The evidence is compelling. The report continues that at least a third of violent attackers telegraphed their intentions to others before they struck. “The message is clear: don’t ignore threats,” says the FBI’s Supervisory Special Agent Andre Simons, who recently briefed our education team at the Department of Education. “If you hear someone say ’they are going to regret this’ or something like that, you need someone skilled to dig a little deeper and find out what that person really means. Don’t assume it is just talk.”

The best approach, according to those who conducted the recent study, is to establish a multidisciplinary Campus Threat Assessment Team that includes campus experts on law enforcement, mental health, human resources, and student affairs along with legal experts who can ensure that students’ rights are properly protected. The FBI maintains 56 field offices that offer direct links to the FBI’s Washington-based Threat Assessment experts, who are ready to offer advice and support around the clock.

I saw the importance of being vigilant and identifying potential threats in my own experience. In January 2001, local police notified me that they had charged a young man with planning an attack with the intent of causing several casualties at De Anza College in Cupertino, California, where I served as president. It was one of the most chilling experiences of my professional life. Fortunately, a good samaritan had tipped off authorities, who promptly and effectively intervened. We’ll never know if the carefully planned attack would have been carried out. But the weapons prepared by this troubled young man were all too real and the danger clear and present. I’m forever indebted to the concerned citizen who took it upon herself to report her concerns to law enforcement personnel. She may have saved dozens of lives.

The experience was a lesson for me – and it’s one that’s confirmed in this new report: if and when threats are reported, be ready, and know how to respond. Whether you are a professor, an administrator or a college president, get yourself educated before – not after. And make sure your Campus Safety Team meets and updates you on a regular basis.

Martha Kanter is the Under Secretary of Education

For additional resources please see:

Threat Assessment in Schools: A Guide to Managing Threatening Situations and to Creating Safe School Climates

Implementing Behavioral Threat Assessment on Campus

The Interactive CD “A Safe School and Threat Assessment Experience: Scenarios Exploring the Findings of the Safe School Initiative” can be ordered for free online here.