In the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy, nearly all large colleges and universities now have behavioral intervention teams: a half-dozen or more campus staff -- including mental health counselors -- charged with identifying at-risk students and developing action plans.
This month Routledge will release what is, perhaps, the most thorough examination of these teams: "Ending Campus Violence: New Approaches to Prevention."
"If there's an overarching theme I'm trying to get across here, it's connecting with at-risk students and trying to get them some care, so they don't spin-off into rampage violence or destructive choices," says author Brian Van Brunt, from his office at the University of Western Kentucky, where he is the counseling center director.
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As the former president of the American College Counseling Association, Van Brunt has overseen hundreds of on-campus mental health cases -- and studied hundreds more. In one of the most compelling sections of "Ending Campus Violence," he culls common themes from these cases into hypothetical scenarios and poses them to experts: from journalists who have covered campus shootings to current campus counselors -- and even former FBI agents.
"One of the most common [ways that colleges go wrong] is this 'zero-tolerance policy,' which is borrowed from K-12 school systems: this idea that any type of weapon or threat might lead to expulsion," says Van Brunt. "For me, this is a sledgehammer approach for something that might need a ball-peen hammer: immediately expelling a student without a proper threat assessment or conversations with that student. So we're seeing a lot of overreaction by the schools, and that can actually be the catalyst that moves that student to a more dangerous set of behaviors."