Post-Virginia Tech, Campus Group Monitors IUP Student Behavior

By Samantha Bond

INDIANA, Pa. – Following the April 2007 shootings that killed 32 people at Virginia Tech, some students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania say the administration appears to be trying to prevent a similar tragedy here.

“I think the Reverse 911 is a good addition to the campus,” Kristie L. Dombroski, a junior marketing student, said in a Feb. 25 phone interview. “It is a good way to keep us all informed.”

But what many students don’t know is that the campus has quietly taken another approach to prevention without the fanfare that accompanied IUP’s adoption of the electronic emergency-alert system.

In September 2006, seven months before the Virginia Tech massacre, Terry Appolonia, IUP dean of students, created a model for a Crisis and Assessment Response Team to identify threats before they become dangerous or worse.

Dombroski said she had never heard of the team.

The team is a response to a charge of “ignoring the warning signs” that critics leveled against officials at Virginia Tech. Police records there showed that the shooter, senior English major Seung-Hui Cho, had 10 episodes of threatening behavior, and officials had recommended that he seek counseling.

“Virginia Tech campus agencies had information on the shooter,” Appolonia, chairman of the IUP crisis team, said in a Feb. 24 interview in his Sutton Hall office. “But they didn’t share it with each other.”

IUP’s CART allows agencies across campus to share threat information and positions them to act as soon as possible, Appolonia said.

CART members work to be aware of students who may be troubled before they become threats, said Eric W. Rosenberger, Ph.D., an associate professor and training director at the IUP Counseling Center.

CART’s 17 members meet bimonthly, Appolonia said. The team includes representatives from the university’s academic division, from student-affairs offices and from campus service providers such as the Office of Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs, the Health Center, the University Police and the Counseling Center.

The Counseling Center, for example, works with students presenting mental health problems. In a typical academic year, counselors see up to 500 students, according to its Web site, and the center receives up to 400 phone calls about student concerns.

“The potential of someone with psychological issues committing an act of violence lurks in a lot of places, not just on college campuses,” Rosenberger said in a Feb. 12 interview in his Counseling Center office in the Suites on Maple East. “After events at Virginia Tech and Southern Illinois, campuses are vigilant in looking for signs of potential danger. But you can’t predict behavior.”

But team members do watch for racial, sexual and other tensions.

“In our meetings, we address any needs students may have,” said Appolonia. “We assess the environment for any tension on campus dealing with race or sexual orientation.”

Warning signs include classroom conflicts, graffiti drawings and student antagonizing of teachers, according to Appolonia. Authorities are notified when appropriate.

Rosenberger said it is difficult to identify potentially dangerous people while protecting privacy rights and avoiding discrimination.

“It is comforting to know there is an effort to pay attention to those who may have fallen through the cracks before,” said Rosenberger. “Many college campuses are doing this.”

CART is on the verge of producing a brochure and a Web site, according to Appolonia.

“We want people to have knowledge of the team and know who to go to,” said Appolonia. “But we have to be careful not to make expectations we can’t meet. For instance, we can’t promise to protect all students on campus. That is unreasonable.”

Dombroski, the marketing student, wonders whether IUP could do more than counseling, CART and electronic alerts.

“I think there is probably more the campus could be doing to ensure our safety,” said Dombroski. “I’m just not really sure what they could do.”

Samantha Bond, a May 2009 graduate of the IUP journalism program, is from Leechburg.


Sidebar: Fast Facts

For more information, contact the following sources for this story:

Terry Appolonia
Dean of Students and Associate Vice President for Student Development
Phone: 724-357-4040

Eric W. Rosenberger, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Training Director
The IUP Counseling Center
Suites on Maple East
Phone: 724-357-2621

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