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Prevention Efforts, Better Communication Needed in Light of Campus Shooting

Mental Health Awareness and Reporting Structure more Feasible than Physical Safety

Dec. 1, 2006

Story Contact:  Jennifer Faddis, 573-882-6217, FaddisJ@missouri.edu

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Universities often are known for sprawling, open campuses. This feature is usually appreciated, until security comes into question. After the deadly rampage at Virginia Tech, a school violence expert at the University of Missouri-Columbia says that safety has more to do with communication and less to do with a physical lockdown of a campus.

“It is possible to physically secure a dorm, but to do that to an entire campus is not feasible,” said Motoko Akiba, assistant professor of educational policy in the MU College of Education's Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. “At the university level, everyone has access to computers and cell phones. E-mails and text messages should be sent out immediately when an incident occurs. At that point, it is not about making a campus physically secure, but rather informing students and faculty.”

Akiba said the larger communication issue is how the gunman in the Virginia Tech incident reached the point that he did without being noticed.

“He was living in a dorm. Did anyone notice anything strange? Did any professors notice changes in his writing or his work in the classroom?” Akiba said. “Better communication needs to be in place so that faculty and students know the next step to take or who to speak to if they do notice someone who appears to be acting in a strange manner, in order to possibly prevent violent incidents. People need to be informed about the importance of reporting and universities need to have systems to promote better communication among faculty, students, mental health professionals, and campus police to prevent a tragedy like this before it happens.”

Akiba conducts research on school safety, multicultural education, and comparative and international education. Applying quantitative policy methods, her research program aims to produce policy-relevant knowledge useful for improving students' learning and health. She received her bachelor's degree in educational policy from the University of Tsukuba in Japan and dual doctoral degrees in educational theory and policy and comparative and international education from Pennsylvania State University, University Park.