By Dr. Baluka Sylvia
STUDENTS returned to university and schools recently. However, are our children safe at campus? This is the question many parents must be asking especially as the first year students (freshers) report to campus.
This is a pertinent question that not only parents should be asking but all the stakeholders including the university administrations, the Government, student guilds, students themselves and the community.
Makerere University opened late on September 7, 2013 behind other universities due to the general staff strike that was successful or unsuccessful depending on which side you stand. And yet a motivated workforce is needed to protect the students and counter security threats on campus.
Choosing a post-secondary institution is a major decision for students and parents. Campus safety is a vital consideration when parents and students are choosing post-secondary institutions.
Universities have a duty to provide safety and security for their staff and students. Nobody whether a lecturer preparing to give a lecture or a student headed to class expects to be severely injured or even killed while going about their daily routine. By their very nature, university campuses are open and accessible to all, which fosters a learning environment but also presents security challenges.
Academic institutions through tradition, culture and expectation, epitomise the open and accessible nature of a free and democratic society. However, universities are among society’s most vulnerable and exploitable targets for individuals and organisations seeking to cause harm and fear.
Globally, higher Education Institutions are witnessing a spate of security and safety concerns. Threats on campus arise from the large populations, research facilities, presence of high profile speakers, troubled students and staff. In the US, there has been renewed attention on how colleges and universities deal with campus safety and security to protect students, employees and property.
The changing face of violence on university campuses around the world is partly facilitated by technology developments and the spate of campus crime is likely to continue in the foreseeable future and it is incumbent upon campus administrators to develop workable countermeasures.
College and university campuses are porous, vulnerable to various types of threats for instance stalking, domestic violence, and other activities conducted by disturbed or disgruntled students and or employees from both internal and external sources.
University Campuses in Uganda have witnessed incidents including murders, suicide, sexual harassment, thefts and or robberies ranging from removal of car parts or theft of entire motor vehicles from car parks, computers or computer accessories, phones, cameras, laptops, students’ property from halls or residence.
Sometimes petty thieves vandalise infrastructure on campus such as fences, lighting and sewage system by removing manhole covers.
Other incidents include cyber crimes including sending of threatening anonymous text messages or emails, or sending pornographic pictures on phones or social networks. Fire incidents have occurred though they are not so common.
Recent shootings in schools and university campuses in the USA have raised concerns that the measures in place may be insufficient to ensure the safety of school and university environments. School shootings have altered the patina of seclusion and safety that once characterised public safety in higher education institutions.
Studies have showed that majority of student murders or suicide cases were inspired to commit murder using fire arms and a wide variety of alternative weapons from TV shows, movies, news broadcasts and popular songs.
Uganda is not free from these since we have not yet achieved full regulation of what is aired on our TV or Radio stations besides the proliferating video halls that may not be supervised.
A combination of factors have been present in a number of school shooting incidences or murders that is, the perception of self as marginal in the social worlds that matter, psychosocial problems that magnify the marginality, cultural prescriptions or belief that killing the teachers and classmates would resolve the killer’s dilemma, failure of surveillance systems intended to identify troubled students before problems become extreme and gun availability.
University campuses are vulnerable to various crimes that undermine the safety and security of those who live and work on these campuses. Recent shootings in schools and university campuses in the US have raised concerns that the measures in place may be insufficient to ensure safety of the campuses.
Although there is a perception of college and university campuses as sanctuaries of learning, they are not always safe places, particularly for women. Studies by the Carnegie foundation for Higher Education as well as other research on violence against women confirm sexual harassment and dating violence as significant barriers to women’s education achievements.
The following recommendations can aid university administrations to achieve safety and security on campus:
Campus law enforcement can work with police to improve security on campus. Creating changes in the vulnerability of facilities to intrusion and increase capacity to respond to threats, and transforming the school climate, increasing attachment and bonding can prevent campus crimes.
Campus safety officials must work with a variety of stakeholders including faculty, staff, administrators, students and community members and coordinate with the Police to accomplish safety while preserving the tenets of an academic environment that include debate, free expression and creativity.
Top campus administrators must take the responsibility for emergency preparedness at campus and developing a disaster plan.
University administrations can address the increasing crimes and causes of insecurity on campus by putting in place measures to ensure grooming of competent and ethically responsible students and computer users.
Universities should incorporate internet safety, information security and cyber ethics instructions into the curricula.
Campus law enforcement should work more closely with local police to improve security on campus through formal policies and agreements to define their roles for all types of incident responses. Policies can assist local law enforcement in defining roles and enforcing a culture of mutual respect and cooperation with campus public safety.
Developing partnerships (memorandum of understands - MoUs) to formalise responsibilities and protocol for universities and police during a critical incidents. Campus security enforcement should work with the Police to determine critical issues to be addressed in the MoU and coordinate joint planning.
Police and campus law enforcement officials should work out ways to share information and talk across disciplines and jurisdictions via radio communication systems, exchanging voice, and data with one another on demand, in-real-time, when needed and as authorised.
While it may be impossible for law enforcement to prevent all crimes, better coordination and information sharing can lead to the prevention of many criminal activities.
Media and public relations (PR), the Police and campus law enforcement should plan and practice joint media ad PR scenarios as perceptions of competency and coordination are paramount during a critical incidents on campus.
Campus law enforcement should work with media before, during and after critical incidents and messages released to the media should be coordinated between campus law enforcement and the Police to avoid rumours.
The Police and campus law enforcement departments should reach out to members of the campus including staff and students in order to build trust and improve relationships with students.
University campus administrators must recognise the shared responsibility or the need to gather information on any particular subject from a variety of perspectives or multiple stakeholders including student affairs, faculty, administrators, counseling or mental health care providers and law enforcement officers considering the blended boundaries that often exist between on and off campus facilities.
Regardless of who is responsible for providing the day-to-day security on campus (custodians or police), coordination and use of standard operating procedures is necessary in case of an incident. The glaring lack of coordination between university administrations and the Police becomes more evident whenever the Police are called upon during critical incidents and as result some innocent lives have been lost.
By building partnerships between campus law enforcement and the Police, they can learn each other’s capabilities and those possessed by the different departments or colleges within the university and the limitations that exist and proactively work out ways to fill the gaps in campus security when an incident occurs.
Campus security guidelines should empower local and campus law enforcement to cooperate and collaborate in managing safety and security incidents on campus.
Through security initiatives such as safety training exercises with students and leadership team and campus familiarity tours for the Police, the Police partnerships with universities can help to make campuses safer and accessible to the Police officers during incidents.
Cyber crime is one of the major causes of insecurity on university campuses. Cyber crimes are crimes and abuses enabled by information technology and they include threatening, cyber stalking, identity theft, cyber bullying, pornography, academic dishonest, intellectual property theft, on-line threats and harassment, unwanted solicitations for sex, and writing and distribution of malicious computer codes.
Safety strategies should be flexible, rigid policies such as zero tolerance do not necessarily promote secure environments and may contribute to extreme punishments that enrage and alienate the general campus populous.
Administrators and campus law enforcement personnel should seek opportunities to provide campus consumers with information concerning threat assessment reporting protocols as well as information concerning confidentiality.
Perpetrators of hostile aspirations often manifest strange behaviours such as ominous and menacing verbal statements, violent themed content posted on social networking sites and written assignments saturated with hatred, despair and rage.
Therefore, maximising and streamlining the opportunities for bystanders to recognise and report troubling behaviours is one of the essential challenges faced by campus safety professionals.
University authorities should only use expulsion as a last resort when integrated with other safety measures. University authorities should not rely on expulsion it may be used as a last resort only when absolutely necessary to ensure campus safety.
Otherwise, if expulsion is isolated from other contingency and safety planning measures, expulsion can worsen matters by precipitating or triggering more stress in the subject’s life and in turn propel the marginalised and hostile individual towards violence. Expulsion remains an option but authorities must carefully consider its limitations.
Rather than isolating the subjects and possibly exacerbating existing grievances, university officials can explore ways to integrate the student into an environment where monitoring and treatment co-exist with safety and security. For instance, by providing counselling services.
Doing so allows them to put the student into a supportive educational environment while monitoring towards reinforcement.
Reducing the vulnerability of campus facilities to intrusion while increasing the capacity for timely response to threats, transforming the campus climate and increasing school attachment and bonding are possible violence prevention measures.
Globally, increasing stress and violence levels are reported, whether in business, industry or college campus. University leaders, managers, supervisors, administrators, support staff and counsellors must be aware of the potential for violence to occur on campuses and be prepared to deal with it adequately and appropriately.
The potential for violence is one of the most important security threats on campus. To promote campus safety, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that schools attempt to prevent behaviours that often precede fatal violence such as bullying, suicidal ideation and threats besides other warning signs and urged society to adopt comprehensive approaches that address risk factors for violence at the individual, family, school and community levels.
Technology is playing a role in the current spate of crimes on campuses and parents must team up with university administrations to nurture youths into responsible technology users and tame imaginative and active minds of young people in schools, universities and colleges. This will help the youth to harness the power of technology for positive developments rather than destructive adventures.
However, the power of information technology in this digital era and greater exposure for the youth have facilitated the active and imaginative minds to be creative and innovative leading discovery of technology inventions such as facebook that have changed the social media platform forever.
Singlehandedly, university campuses cannot ably or timely manage threats and security incidents when they occur thus the need for establishing partnerships with the local police, university neighborhood communities and private businesses. This is a stance espoused in the campus security guidelines.
Nobody is immune from security threats on campuses and, therefore, all stakeholders must be proactive and vigilant in detecting and reporting any risks or potential threats within university campuses.
Thus more priority and emphasis should be out on preparedness and emergency management and commensurate resources should be invested in this regard. The joint effort of all stakeholders on campuses will go a long way in engendering safer and more secure campuses.
The face of crimes on university campuses has been changing globally and, therefore, university campus administrators must be more prepared for the various security incidents including terrorism.
Campus top management must assess the risk posed by known individuals as well as by the anonymous writers of threatening communications.
University campus administrators should invest in retooling the staff in the campus public safety department as well as in improving the infrastructure to facilitate interoperability between the university law enforcement officials and the local police.
University campus administrators should establish collaborative and standardised threat assessment protocols for addressing the various internal and external threats on campuses.
While much attention focuses on violent students, public safety officials should cast the net wider and consider all potential threats, recognising that outsiders, employees and other consumers of campus services may pose a threat to campus safety.
Through comprehensive planning and collaboration, university campus officials should anticipate multiple potential sources of violence and plan emergency responses proactively.
Administrators should review harsh disciplinary measures that may discourage individuals from reporting concerns and suspicious cases for fear of co-worker or fellow student will face unjust or severe punishment.
Authorities should facilitate confidential reporting opportunities via text messages, email and other web-based resources.
Assess threatening or intimidating communications as a key aspect of maintaining a safe campus.
Safety and security can be improved on University Campuses by establishing partnerships between the university security law enforcement staff (custodians) and uniformed Uganda Police Force through joint planning and training.
Overall, the major responsibility for students safety and security on campus falls squarely on the students themselves who have to make the right choices in regards to their company or friends, when and where they hang up (1Corinthians 15:33).
The writer is a lecturer in the department of Biosecurity, Ecosystem and Public Health, College of Veterinary Medicine, Makerere University and a scholar of Global Public Health.