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Conference addresses campus violence

Profile image for By Jenna Duncan / Staff Writer
By Jenna Duncan / Staff Writer

The University of North Texas has hosted the Texas Higher Education Law Conference for the past 17 years, and this year the university presented an additional conference centered around the issue of violence on campus.

An estimated 250 people attended the daylong conference Monday, listening to speakers from across the country discuss preventative and response practices for violence on campus.

“[Campus violence] is of increasing concern and interest, particularly with the situations that result in mass casualties,” said organizer Marc Cutright, an associate professor of higher education. “There seemed to be some need that needed to be addressed on both the prevention of and reaction to violence on campus, so we formed this special one-day conference just to focus on these issues.”

Sessions included how to conduct a campus safety audit, building and maintaining an active shooter training program, and cognitive behavior therapy. There also were more general sessions on such topics as violence prevention on campus and issues surrounding guns on campus.

The first speaker, G. Richard Hill, discussed gun violence and gun rights on college campuses, including a personal story about being shot during an on-campus incident in 1993. Hill, who serves as general counsel for Weber State University in Utah, shared how his experience changed the emergency response and policies at the college as well as what physical securities were added.

Other speakers included W. Scott Lewis, the president of NaBITA, the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association, which helps universities and businesses develop behavioral intervention teams. The teams work in prevention and counseling to help identify troubled students, faculty and staff members and offer them resources to cope.

At UNT, there is a behavioral intervention team for students called CARE, and the administration is working on creating a similar program for faculty and staff, said Maureen McGuinness, dean of students and assistant vice president for student affairs. McGuinness said the conference helped her gauge where UNT was in terms of preventative and response measures in place.

“I think it’s just really appropriate and very timely. It’s definitely something we continually look at as an institution — how can we be preventative instead of reactive?” she said. “I think it’s something a lot of us have been looking for for a long time, and you can see by the attendance that people want this.”

Cutright was anticipating between 100 and 125 people, and said the response was “overwhelming in a positive way” from higher education professionals across the country. Most of the attendees were from Texas, and about 30 UNT employees attended.

“These are, for the most part, 12-month employees who have things to do, and they spend a day of their time to be here,” he said. “I think that demonstrates a real professional and personal commitment to the avoidance of these issues. We have a pretty darn safe campus environment.”

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.