Preventing Violence on College Campuses: Seven Considerations for Parents
by Jon Davies and Mark Evans
Parents, students, and university staff are all concerned about violence on college campuses. Most of us shudder in horror to think about the tragedy at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois. While mass shootings are particularly horrifying — and fortunately, very rare — there are other forms of campus violence that are much more prevalent and warrant our concern and consideration.
Nationwide, 17 percent of college students indicated they had experienced some form of violence or harassment in the previous year (Lanford, L., 2006).
These violent acts include harassment, stalking, vandalism, physical assault, sexual assault and other forms of interpersonal violence, and suicide.
Sexual assault unfortunately occurs all too frequently on college campuses and society at large. It’s been estimated that a third of women will experience an unwanted sexual experience in their lifetime. Men have also been survivors of sexual assault, most frequently by other men. Most acts of sexual assault on college campuses are perpetrated by someone known to the survivor. Alcohol and drug use contribute to the problem, with an estimated 50% of perpetrators and survivors of sexual assault under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of the assault.
As a parent, it can be scary to contemplate the vulnerability of your son or daughter. While it is important to acknowledge the problem of violence, it may be reassuring to know that students on university campuses generally are safer than their non-college peers.
Violence is not just a university problem, it is a problem in the culture at large. Preventing violence is a complex issue. We don’t claim to have the ability to eliminate violence, but we do hope to offer you several considerations to help protect your son or daughter
First, consider that most school shootings, sexual assaults and other forms of campus violence are being committed by males. Men commit approximately 75% of the serious conduct violations that occur on the UO campus. However, men are less likely than women to seek help for their problems. For instance, in recent years, college men represented 1/3 of the clients seen at the University Counseling Center and 40% of the patients treated at the University Health Center, while comprising 47% of the student population.
In light of this gender imbalance, any way that we can help young men to increase their ability to empathize and communicate with others, better cope with frustration and conflict, reach out for help with personal problems and addictions, and develop healthy self-esteem and self expression, would likely reduce the likelihood of violence. While your relationship may be changing as your student moves toward greater autonomy, you can continue to exert a positive influence in the following ways:
- Working to maintain open communication and a positive relationship with your son or daughter.Talking to your student about the kinds of violence that occur on college campuses such as harassment, sexual assault, hazing, vandalism, and physical assault. Invite your student to share his/her own concerns about violence. Bringing these issues to awareness in a mature discussion way may help “inoculate” a student against making a bad decision.
- Encourage your son or daughter to report acts of violence to RAs, campus and/or law enforcement agencies.
- Practicing and modeling conflict resolution skills. This is something we all can grow in. If you and your student get into a conflict, how do you approach it?
- Discuss in a mature, non-confrontational way the additional risk that substance abuse can bring. When talking about your student’s struggles with substances or other issues, it may be disarming to acknowledge what you have learned from wrestling with your own demons. This can be a way of joining with your student rather than being in the position of judging authority.
- Encourage help seeking. Many students who seek counseling only do so after being referred by family members and/or friends.
- Encourage/model healthy expression of emotions.
- Encourage student involvement with antiviolence programs such as
- Sexual Assault Awareness Week
- Sexual Wellness Advocacy Team
- UO Women’s Center
- UO Men’s Center
Consider your student’s risk for engaging in violence and or self/harm?. Are you concerned about your son or daughter’s reactions to loss, failure or conflict? Have you ever felt frightened by your son or daughter’s anger? If you are concerned about your son and daughter, ask for help/consultation with a psychologist/therapist in your community.
What can you do if your son or daughter is a recipient of violence or threats of violence. It is important that violence or fears of violence should be reported to university official and/or law enforcement. If your student is a survivor of violence it would be important for them to seek help. The University Counseling and Testing Center and the Student Health Center can assist survivors in getting the help that they need.
However, in the short term we need your help in identifying students who are at risk for harm to others on oneself. Long term solutions need to focus on programs that promote mental health. How can we impact a socialization process. How can we raise boys that are less prone to violence. How can we separate masculinity with aggression, violence, alcohol/drug use and independence. We need to teach students to cope with loss, perceived failure and life stresses in non aggressive ways. How can we reduce the notion that How can children learn healthy ways of expressing their emotion. It is unrealistic to think we can help people never feel overwhelmed. However we can encourage people to seek the help and support they need when their coping mechanisms are overtaxed.
Thankfully, the vast majority of students and members of our society behave in healthy and safe ways. The threads of our connections to each other and our society at large and feelings of caring and responsibility to one another can provide a basis to build greater safety.
Jon Davies is a staff psychologist at the University Counseling & Testing Center. While he is a generalist, he specializes in men’s issues and is the advisor to the UO Men’s Center. He is also a parent of two adult sons.
Mark Evans is a staff psychologist at the University Counseling & Testing Center who has worked with men’s issues for many years. He also directs the Oregon University Suicide Prevention Project.