Just five months ago, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner sat in a classroom at Tucsonâ€™s Pima Community College. Even then, his peers could tell that something was a bit off.
On Jan 8., that same Pima Community College student allegedly opened fire at a Safeway in Tuscon, Ariz., killing six people and injuring 13 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Tuscon).
A counselor had investigated Loughnerâ€™s frequent outbursts in June and suggested that administrators assist him in how to conduct himself in class, according to the New York Times.
This raises the question: What would the procedure have been had Loughner attended CSU?
â€œI think whatâ€™s critical that happened with Mr. Loughner and what we want to emphasize here, is that it takes a community to identify when someone may be struggling,â€ said Jody Donovan, CSU interim dean of students.
A host of networks on CSUâ€™s campus are dedicated to investigating the cases in which a student is perceived as a concern to the community.
â€œThese days, post V-Tech, we take threats very seriously and take immediate action if a student directly threatens a faculty member, employee or another student,â€ said Ernest Chavez, head ofhe CSU Psychology Department.
If someone makes non-imminent threats, meaning they do not cite anyone specific, the case is taken to Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct Services for review. But, in cases where the threats are specific and set to happen in the near future, the Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs takes immediate action to contact the student and work out the situation.
Simultaneously, the Student Consultation Team, or SCT, investigates the studentâ€™s behavior. The 15-member group of representatives from departments across campus deals with students struggling within the community who display signs ranging from stress to more severe behavior.
â€œWeâ€™re very aware, and we want very swift and firm responses to threats, talks of violence, anything thatâ€™s related to that,â€ said Dwight Burke, special adviser for support and safety assessment at CSU and member of the SCT.
The SCT reviews students on a case-by-case basis by looking at potential history of disruption that may include cases in which the student has posed a problem elsewhere or is crying out for help. Its goal is to find the cause of the problem and assist the student in quelling the behavior.
â€œRarely does someone just suddenly decide to commit a big act of violence and go do it,â€ Burke said.
After representatives from the SCT get the studentâ€™s side of the story, they suggest treatment options and refer them to talk about their issues at places like the CSU Counseling Center.
In Loughnerâ€™s case, administrators met with him and his mother to arrange a â€œbehavioral contract,â€ due to his frequent outbursts and run-ins with campus police. He was suspended in September after releasing a homemade video calling Pima Community College a place of â€œgenocide in America.â€
CSU also suspends students who refuse to seek treatment and continue to cause problems in the community. In order to return to the university, students must get a clearance from their healthcare provider or psychiatrist.
The troubled individual, however, has the right in our society to refuse help.
â€œMoreover, their self-observation and insight into having problems may be seriously impaired such that they do not see themselves as having problems,â€ said CSU psychology professor Jerry Deffenbacher in an e-mail to the Collegian.
This refusal of students to seek help has put CSU in a tight spot before, Burke said, adding that the university has issued suspensions in such cases.
â€œSometimes itâ€™s a good idea to separate from the university in order to deal with whatever is going on with you so that you can come back and be engaged academically,â€ Donovan said.
Proactive approaches and caring intervention are aspects that Donovan and Burke commend the university for when it comes to preventing erratic behavior from going unnoticed.
They recommend for anyone to call the CSU Police Department, Office of Student Affairs or alert a university authority if they notice any
suspicious activity or disturbing behavior.
â€œCompassion and care for the students is really paramount at CSU,â€ Burke said.
Crime Beat Reporter Rachel Childs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.