In the years following the tragedy at Virginia Tech, college and university leaders have heeded the call to strengthen campus-wide violence prevention and crisis response systems. Threat assessment and behavioral intervention teams have become regular and integral components of prevention efforts. Mental health and counseling services were acknowledged as a necessary and critical campus resource. Technology allowed for the development of confidential bystander reporting tools that enable law enforcement and others responsible for campus safety to promptly assess or respond to a potential threat. Memoranda of understanding with local law enforcement enable the more efficient handling of threats or violence. These comprise a brief description of the methods used to build and bolster the campus safety architecture by college and university leaders.
Across the states, legislation and campus policy have confined the presence of firearms in educational settings to law enforcement officers, be they campus or otherwise. But in recent years, fueled by the narrative that ‘the best person to protect your safety is you,’ gun rights advocates have increasingly pushed for the rights of concealed carry firearms permit owners to wield their weapon in college and university settings, if they so choose. Recent legislative activity has signaled a shift in the momentum related to firearms’ presence in postsecondary settings, with rapid and substantial growth in the number of states considering bills that would allow conceal and carry permit holders to bring their firearms on campus. In a soon forthcoming report, the Education Commission of the States and NASPA note that nearly one half of the states considered such legislation this past year, representing an increase from just under one-third the year prior. In a report released in early October of this year, the Education Commission of the States and NASPA note that nearly one half of the states considered such legislation in 2016, representing an increase from just under one-third the year prior.
But as the volume of the campus carry cause has built to a crescendo, its advocates have yet to answer the essential question: Will more guns make our campus communities safer? The answer depicted by research is ‘No.’
We can compare crime statistics with state gun laws and observe, for instance, that individuals are already able to carry firearms in six of the ten states with the highest rates of violent crime per capita. If firearms are the solution to individual or public safety, we should expect states with loose gun regulations not to be among the states with the highest rates of such crime. The science of aggression has also discovered the ‘weapons effect,’ a phenomenon in which the mere presence of firearms actually increases aggression in those who have not otherwise been provoked. Investigative journalism has also shown that individuals who are not provided crisis-response training are ill-equipped to protect themselves and others in the moment of unforeseen violence regardless of their level of training in the basic handling of a firearm. This last point is important because no state’s concealed carry licensure requirements mandate any – let alone ongoing – crisis response training, and many other states fail to require training in even the basic handling and use of a firearm to obtain a permit. Gun ownership is also associated with accidental self-inflicted harm or death, interpersonal violence, and abuse of alcohol and/or drugs.
We cannot overlook how all of these factors affect the safety and well-being of our campus communities, and, in turn, influence the teaching and learning missions that we hold in trust to stakeholders and – most importantly – to students. Though it seems we increasingly find ourselves in a ‘governance by anecdote’ environment, it’s imperative that educational leaders share perspectives on the unintended consequences and implementation concerns associated with proposals that would bring change to our campus communities. Of equal importance, we should engage one another in thought partnership to influence the outcome of policy that brings change to our efforts to prevent violence, and, when we must comply with new law or regulation, work together to envision strategies to comply while affirming our commitment to the quality and care of our living, learning, and working environments.
In the Summer 2016 issue of Leadership Exchange, there is a page-long article about Design Thinking in Higher Education, by two directors from the jCENTER for Innovative Higher Education at the University of Minnesota. They assert that higher education provides prime challenges for which we can use Design Thinking – a problem solving process and mindset which focuses on empathy with users or a user population to gain insight into experiences for a problem, rather than just fixing a problem at surface level. For example – a mid sized private university has a mental health crisis on campus; instead of hiring more full- or part-time counselors to ‘fix’ the students’ mental status, investigating the campus climate, gaining a deeper understanding of the ‘why’ experience of a student, and then looking at what specifically about the mental health support on campus is lacking, provides a much more comprehensive and creative solution, one which also may uncover other obstacles and opportunities previously hidden, all of which can help transform a struggling campus to a thriving community.
An excellent example of this ‘need for empathic understanding’ can be found in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s article Stigma, Stress, and Fear: Faculty Mental-Health Services Fall Short. The summary for this piece is in two concise sentences: “Counseling and other support for troubled students have become easier to find in recent years. But many professors still deal with their problems in isolation.” That observation brings forward one major part of design thinking that is missing in the quick read in Leadership Exchange: users and questions. The authors are correct in asserting that DT “requires an unapologetic focus on the user.” However, what wasn’t said is that there can be multiple users for the same problem. Mental health on campus is a very current and relevant challenge for many institutions around the country. When students call for help because of a lack of support, task forces, divisions, and consultants usually go right to staffing concerns, citing rising student fees and insurance limitations as the main obstacles to improvement. What is often overlooked is the parts of campus that surround students the rest of the time when they aren’t in waiting rooms at the health and counseling center—faculty, staff, administrators, and peers, all of whom may experience the same challenges, but with slightly different experiences. Do they count as users? How do we solve for multiple users? What happens if there are contradicting needs and solutions? That is where design thinkers thrive, solving wicked complex problems that have real, human impact that changes lives and stories.
In short, Design Thinking can have infinite applications in higher education and in bringing change to learning, not just divisional and systemic. The key is in the authentic doing. If one would approach design thinking as a copy-paste process, it will have little or no effect on the problem.
‘Once upon a time’, or its modern day equivalent, ‘a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away’ will catch my attention any time. I love a good story! But as much fun as stories are, I’ve come to understand that stories have a purpose beyond fun. In families, in organizations, and in communities, stories connect us to our history and our values; stories teach us about our world, about ourselves, about each other.
“The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories.” Mary Catherine Bateson
In her book, Storycatcher: Making Sense Out of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story, Christina Baldwin writes that story helps us make sense of our complex lives, it connects us to each other and “outlines our relationship with everything.” Understanding and sharing our stories helps us understand each other and create community.
Creating community on our campuses has never been more important than it is now. Finding space and time in the midst of all that has to be done for students, faculty, and staff to tell their stories and to listen to other stories is a critical task. Helping people listen with open minds and open hearts to painful stories and stories that paint uncomfortable pictures is important work.
“The history of storytelling isn’t one of simply entertaining the masses, but of advising, instructing, challenging the status quo.” Therese Fowler
We are always telling stories, whether we realize it or not and with those stories we are teaching, supporting or challenging the status quo, telling people they are or are not a member of our communities. Change happens through stories. Learning happens through stories.
As we begin another academic year, think back to your first memory of stepping foot on campus as a new student. Were you anxious and concerned about your ability to succeed? If so, what story would you share with new students to let them know you understand their fears? What story would you share to support them and inspire confidence in their ability to succeed? Our willingness to share our stories, both successes and failures, is the beginning of community.
“People become real when we put interaction into words; story is the foundation of relationship. With words alone we can create connection, establish community.” Christina Baldwin
What is your experience of story and community? Did someone tell a story that brought you into community? How are you creating space and time for students to tell and hear stories? We invite you to share your story of community and think with us about the ways story might help campuses build community this year.
#KAedchat- Join K&A’s live Twitter Chat on Monday, August 15 from 6:00 to 7:00 pm (EDT) for a discussion of this topic exploring storytelling and community building, and the roles of campus leaders and incoming students in promoting positive but impactful growth of their communities.
*The blog post is based on the keynote given for Community Assistant training at the University of Mississippi on August 1, 2016.
Welcome to the K&A Blog: a place where the K&A team members share individual ideas, thoughts, opinions, and lessons. As the K&A Fellow, I get the explicit honor of writing the first post. Being an intern at a firm whose team members come from near and far to bring change to higher education, my day doesn’t normally consist of getting virtual coffee for our conference calls. For nine months I have been a part of one of the most interesting and hardworking groups of people I have ever worked with. Balancing this challenge with a full class schedule, another internship, and other commitments like sports teams and committee meetings, it is I who usually needs the coffee by the time I get started with my K&A work. However, it is when I sit at my computer, join a conference call, or drive out to have a face to face meeting with my mentors, that I feel most at home.
Being a part of both sides of the equation—being a student, but also learning about how K&A and institutions work together to better the student experience—has helped me put a value on the education I am getting at Hampshire College, and allows me to take advantage of all the opportunities I find. Coming from a school where we design our own major, create our own experiences, and make happen for ourselves what others are given, I have been prepared for the challenges of working at K&A, from fitting in the work to my schedule, traveling when I need to, and collaborating with people who have even longer and crazier days than I do. The whole team is dedicated to bringing positive change to learning and helping institutions provide the best possible experience to their students. As the K&A video states, “…that is our mission, and it shapes every aspect of what we do, and who we are.” I have become just as dedicated to the team and their mission, and it has begun to shape every aspect of what I do and who I am.
The core mission of K&A’s work is to promote learning as not just the marathon aggregation of raw knowledge, but as an experience in development, individual growth, and innovation. These are the tools that students will need in order to change the world, and the world is in dire need of some changing. Education involves exchanges of information, experiences, discoveries, and many questions, but there are more important things, much more difficult things involved in education than simply memorizing information. In my classes at school, this includes the integration of concepts and the application of those concepts to myriad problems and activities. Integrating these concepts often requires engaging multiple perspectives on the same event — multiple theories about the same concept, different ways to read the same passage, etc. It is this idea of growing students into adults capable of tackling challenges and adapting to unique situations that K&A strives to embolden colleges and universities to embrace. As a current student at a college trying to do the same thing, I can be both a lens and a sounding board, much like this blog can be for our staff and readers. Through the work that institutions ask of students, bit by bit, they will be a bit more creative, more critical, and will become the change that we want to see in the world.