Northern Arizona University is adopting several new safety initiatives this year based on 10 recommendations made over the summer by the NAU Student Safety Task Force.
In its report, the task force identified six main areas of concern: alcohol use, sexual assault, mental health, snow and region-related issues, the campus climate for sexual minorities, and safety for pedestrians, cyclists and boarders.
“Alcohol kind of creeps into a lot of these — maybe all of them,” said NAU Director of Residence Life Cynthia Anderson, who co-chaired the university’s task force. “There is this thing about the young adult period and a certain amount of social normalizing of alcohol use by college students even if they’re not of legal age.”
The task force members identified alcohol as a major safety concern early on, but even they were not expecting the kind of feedback they got at an April campus safety forum that included NAU students, faculty, staff and other community members.
“Hearing from students at the forum, it was interesting that they said, ‘We need alcohol-free alternatives,’” said NAU Health Promotion Manager Melissa Griffin, who was also on the task force. “They didn’t call it that, of course, but they said they needed stuff to do and they needed to know more about those kinds of opportunities. I was surprised by that.”
In response, Sun Entertainment has expanded its free AfterHours entertainment offerings this semester. Anderson added that there are plans to rebrand the game room in the NAU Union Fieldhouse as The Hub, a new, late-night hangout space that will host football, trivia, open mic and karaoke nights and serve food. Griffin is also trying to expand the alcohol-free Tequila Sunrise alternative Flannels and Flapjacks, which drew around 800 students last year.
“What we know is, you provide a really fun alternative event and students will come,” Anderson said.
NAU’s marketing department has been tasked with ramping up marketing efforts to promote those alcohol-free events this year. Other promotional efforts will focus on getting the word out about alcohol risk reduction programs for off-campus activity, such as the Safe Ride bus that brings students back to campus from the bars downtown and the Students Only Driving Absolutely Sober program, which allows designated drivers to get free soda at the bars.
“We had a couple of business owners who had been in town forever who said, ‘I didn’t know that you had a Safe Ride bus. I didn’t know that there was a S.O.D.A.S. program,’” Anderson said.
The task force also got the Safe Ride routes added to Transloc, the GPS tracking app that tells students where the on-campus buses are. In addition, Health Promotion launched a new “21st Birthday Card” program, which provides dining coupons and safe-drinking tips to students on their 21st birthday.
DEPRESSION AND SELF-HARM
Also expanded this year was Kognito, NAU’s online training program to help bystanders identify and help students who are experiencing emotional distress. In addition to being recommended for all new faculty, Kognito will now be required for all resident assistants and courses using peer instructors.
NAU also brought a trainer from Syracuse University to NAU over the summer to teach 24 student and faculty leaders known as “gatekeepers” about students responding to student depression and self-harm through a new program called Campus Connect. Additional training sessions will be held throughout the semester to create a network of peer gatekeepers called “Safe Jacks” to help students on campus who may be struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts.
Anderson said additional training was important because the rate of students seeking assistance through NAU’s counseling services has grown faster than enrollment.
“While our students do not die by suicide (at) a rate that is higher than the national average, we have more students who have major suicidal ideation and more students who report that they do self-injurious behaviors (than the national average),” Anderson said.
She is now working with other university officials to create a new campuswide protocol for responding to student mental health incidents.
MORE GREEK LIFE OVERSIGHT
Other safety initiatives new to NAU this year include a review of the university’s campuswide response protocol to acts of bias against an individual or group based on their race, sex, age, color, national origin, religion, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation or gender identity. A revamped protocol is expected to come out in April. NAU officials are also reviewing the school’s medical amnesty policy.
Increased oversight and faculty advising for Greek Life is also coming to NAU this year.
The NAU Student Safety Task Force was created after the Arizona Board of Regents directed all three major state universities to identify campus safety concerns and come up with data-driven solutions to those concerns in September 2013. It included faculty, staff, students, community members and local law enforcement. The task force’s findings were based on data collected from administrative records, including student contract violations and Clery Report data, anonymous American College Health Association and Arizona Institution of Higher Education surveys, and feedback from the April campus safety forum. The plan was presented at the Statewide Student Safety Task Force meeting hosted by ABOR in June.
More information and resources are available online at nau.edu/safe.
Reach the reporter at 556-2261 or MMcManimon@azdailysun.com.
More sexual assaults
than officially reported
Another big safety initiative is the expansion of NAU’s MyStudentBody Essentials Course, an interactive prevention program that teaches new students about alcohol, drugs and sexual violence. This was the first year the online course was mandatory for all incoming freshmen and transfer students.
“We’re kind of ramping it up,” said NAU Health Promotion Manager Melissa Griffin.
By move-in day, around 2,200 of NAU’s roughly 5,000 new students had completed the course and 1,150 were in the process of completing it — about 1,000 more than the previous year. The task force is now working with school officials to create a “hard mandate” that would penalize students who do not complete the course next year.
MyStudentBody was also revamped this year to comply with the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act and the Violence Against Women Act. It now includes more training on bystander intervention techniques, the definition of “consent” and other topics relating to sexual assault prevention.
The increased focus on sexual assault prevention stemmed from anonymous surveys conducted by Health Promotions, which found a much higher number of students reporting being victims of sexual violence and unwanted sexual touching than were showing up in the annual campus Clery Report.
“Even though it’s not this hugely reported phenomenon, from surveillance, we believe that sexual assaults — particularly sexual assaults between acquaintances under the influence of alcohol — is a much bigger phenomenon than is getting into formal channels at the university,” Anderson said.
In response to the task force’s findings, the university made training on how to handle reports of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, dating violence and related topics mandatory for all new employees for the first time ever. The goal, Anderson said, is to require all employees to complete the same training as of next year.
— Michelle McManimon