University network works to aid students of concern
March 17, 2017Tweet
Once a week during the academic year, at least 20 people – sometimes more – come together to discuss students of concern. These people, members of the Students of Concern Committee (SOC), represent offices all across campus that work together to support students who are experiencing some level of distress.
The committee’s work is critical, and makes a difference.
In fact, 95 percent of the students the SOC worked with in fall 2016 completed the semester successfully, with an average GPA of 2.98. Not bad when dealing with students who have issues with substance abuse, anxiety, depression, roommates or a myriad of other concerns. The most frequent referrals to the SOC were for students with depressive manifestations (25), substance abuse (19) and suicidal thoughts (22). Of those, 11 students exhibited symptoms of all three categories, requiring tremendous support from the campus.
Beth Riley, assistant dean of students and director of case management services, said it’s important to determine who has the best relationship with students who are referred to the SOC.
“One student, who was dealing with multiple problems and challenges, received support from 15 offices over two and a half year period – and was able to graduate as a result,” she said. “At one point in time, we had asked a particular professor to talk to the student and if we hadn’t had someone knowledgeable about academic affairs on the SOC, we wouldn’t have known the variety of options on the table to best advise the faculty member how to help the student.”
This particular student first came to the attention of the SOC for acting in a way that confused people. He had multiple problems, challenges. “Initially, the student’s family wasn’t part of the network, but eventually the student consented to have them involved,” Riley said. “That’s a big fear for students who say ‘You’re not going to call my parents, are you?’ They think their parents will be upset and not supportive and it’s the complete opposite. Eventually that’s the best option.”
Riley said that the student was in the room with her when she called the parents. “They were very open to what the SOC had to say,” she said. “They were aware of his challenges but wanted to know what was and wasn’t working at the University, then worked together as part of the support network. I don’t think the student would have managed without the network.”
In all, Riley said academic advisors, faculty, Binghamton University Dining Services, Res Life, the Dean of Students Office, the Personal Safety Advisory Committee, Student Conduct, Decker Student Health Services, Harpur’s Ferry, Services for Students with Disabilities, University Police, as well as a community member and physician from home joined with the SOC and the student’s parents formed the network.
Qiana Watson is a member of the CARE Team (consultation, assessment, referral and education). As case management coordinator, she is often on the front lines of working with SOC-referred students.
Last semester, Watson worked with a student that a faculty member felt had the potential to become violent. “We did a lot of planning with faculty and staff about what we could reasonably do,” said Watson. For this student, case management worked with the department chair, dean, associate dean, dean of students, University Police, Services for Students with Disabilities and a rabbi, as well as the University Counseling Center.
“All of these people were trying to coordinate meetings and conversations to best help the student, who was suffering a very serious and complicated health condition,” Watson said.
Part of a case manager’s role in a case like this is to help everyone understand that you can’t mandate an assessment of someone who’s not presenting as a threat to self or others, Watson said. “It’s a big learning curve for the faculty, that the student is who he is. Through our interactions, they were able to see that and put new things in place to learn how to manage difficult students.
“We provide a fair amount of consultation for faculty and staff and, in this case, literally hours and hours and hours to help navigate the issues,” Watson added. “We had a case management meeting. April [Thompson, dean of students] sat down with them. The Threat Management Team met. We reached out to the student and provided a plethora of resources for both the student and faculty.”
Though the student’s behavior was outlandish at the time, this semester Watson received an email message stating the student was no longer disruptive in the classroom. Yet, she continues to follow the case and check in to see if she can help the student navigate any issues.
Watson once worked with a student who had a violent outburst in class, including meeting with the parents. The Threat Assessment Team was consulted and the student was barred from campus. Because it was toward the end of the student’s senior year, Watson arranged accommodations for the student to graduate without having to be in class any longer, including proctoring the student’s exams and following the student right through graduation.
“We continue to work with students even when they’re no longer allowed on campus due to a conduct case or other situation,” Watson said. “We work with them to get everything completed so they can complete their education and graduate.”
Working with students who need support can be taxing, said Watson, thinking about a particular student who was in the hospital. “For me, I need to know everything and everybody is taken care of. I almost feel like I’m holding my breath the entire time, then I can finally exhale and breathe. In the moment my whole focus is that I have to help these people and to give them everything I can. It’s like a switch. I can breathe after I know they’re okay.”
There are often many pieces of the puzzle, Riley said. “We’ll have lots of pieces. Someone will have one piece, another person will have another, but nobody has all of them, so it’s important that we gather all the pieces from as many people as possible to be able to provide a comprehensive assessment.”
Binghamton University’s SOC is unique in its size and that information is shared on a need-to-know basis, said Riley. “We have open communication, but only provide those pieces members need to know to support the student.”
The frequency of meetings is also different from most other campuses, Watson added. “Most campus committees typically meet only when a situation arises, but we have a standing meeting every week to stay on top of things and make sure we’re following up on cases previously mentioned and addressing “walks-ons” where there was no police report.”
“We want to catch them before it becomes a crisis,” said Riley.
There is a referral form on the web for those who have concerns about a student. Anyone can use the form to refer a student to the CARE Team, and it will come to the SOC if needed.
“We’re doing more outreach as well,” said Watson. “More people are referring students to us earlier. We’re getting more phone calls and emails saying, ‘Hey, this happened. What should I do? Is this something for the SOC or should I just document it? What should I do?’”
People are becoming more comfortable that we’re here for case management, Watson said. “When in doubt, give us a call for a consultation. We can provide information or if you want some follow up, we can do that, too.”
Members of the SOC are also available to meet with any department or group that wants more information. “We need more visibility and people need to know who we are,” said Watson. “It’s such a great mix of professionals who sit at that table from across the campus and that’s different from other campuses.”
For more information on the SOC or the CARE Team, visit the Case Management website.