Eight years after the Virginia Tech massacre, the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative has been announced.
Eight years after the Virginia Tech massacre, survivors and families announced a program Thursday intended to make colleges and universities safer, hoping it will serve as a legacy to the 32 people killed.
The program, called the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative, is the result of more than three years of work by the Virginia Tech Victims Family Outreach Foundation and a team of mental-health, public-safety, threat-management and victim-advocacy experts.
It consists of nine surveys with more than 250 questions on issues that have plagued college campuses, like hazing, sexual assault and alcohol abuse as well as how to improve emergency notifications. The intent is for institutions to use the surveys as a self-assessment checklist to ensure they have adequate procedures in place.
About three dozen schools have started the process of participating as of early Thursday, waiting to be verified to register, the director of the initiative, S. Daniel Carter, said. The aim is to enlist as many of the 7,000 U.S. higher-education institutions as possible.
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“We are going to create a living legacy,” said the president of the foundation, Joseph Samaha. “We are able to breathe some life into my daughter and the other victims every time the survey is actually taken. That’s important.”
Samaha’s daughter Reema was an 18-year-old freshman in a French class at Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus on April 16, 2007, when Seung-Hui Cho, a fellow student, went on a rampage throughout the grounds and buildings, killing her and 31 other students and faculty members.
It is the deadliest mass shooting at a university in U.S. history.
As more than 20 million students head to college campuses this fall, they will probably settle in at institutions that have reassessed or enhanced their safety procedures in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting, like improvements to emergency warnings and approaches to mental health.
In the years since the massacre, the national debate over gun control and regulations has also grown, particularly regarding the carrying of weapons in schools. Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, for example, born the day after the Virginia Tech shooting, says it now has 500 campus chapters.
Carter said the surveys in the initiative take a broad treatment of questions on emergency response.
“We have adopted an all-hazards approach — active shooter to tornado or hurricane,” he said. “Active shooters are serious, but there are a vast array of potential threats to campus safety.”
The survey, titled Campus Public Safety Indicators, asks institutions whether safety officers are armed and with what type of weapon. Emergency management questions include whether notifications are by emails, signs, texts and others. Another seeks to define how mental health officials handle possible student threats to themselves or others. There are also sections on hazing, sexual violence and threat assessment.
The broad range of questions helps campus officials pull together the different experts — mental health, alcohol abuse and hazing, for example — to allow better coordination.
Education experts say this could help students decide where to attend.
“Certainly Virginia Tech gave everyone reason to review what they are doing,” said Kim V. Richmond, the director of the National Center for Campus Public Safety. “A tool like this helps campuses be able to frame what they are doing well and communicate that out to folks who are consumers.”