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Student Fear of Campus Shooters Low on the List

In the scheme of fears, Illinois college students rank a shooter on campus fairly low--in spite of the fact that just two years ago a gunman shot and killed six people and injured 18 at a university in their state, Northern Illinois University. That finding came out of a new study by three researchers at Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

The researchers surveyed more than 5,000 students at six Illinois colleges and universities during the 2009-2010 academic year. The goal was to understand student attitudes toward on-campus crime and their perceptions of risk and personal safety, personal experiences, and understanding of campus safety measures. The same team did a similar study in the wake of the 2007 shootings in Virginia, which focused on local and campus law enforcement. This more recent study focused on students and campus life. Researchers included students at three state universities, a community college, and two private universities.

During daylight hours what most concerned students was possible theft of electronic devices, wallets, and purses. As might be predicted, the study discovered that students have a higher fear of crime at night, where they were more concerned about muggings and sexual assaults, along with property-related crime. Being shot at in a classroom turned out not to be a high concern for day or night. The most common response to dealing with their fears was tied to how they traveled on campus, particularly at night; for example, they reported traveling in groups and avoiding areas perceived as dangerous.

In the area of emergency response, students were generally aware their campus had an emergency response plan, researchers wrote, but few had reviewed that document in the last year. Students did recognize that their schools had a number of methods by which they could convey emergency information to the campus community. However, that awareness was less prevalent among the students at the community college than any other type of institution.

The researchers also found that students don't favor allowing concealed firearms on campus--especially not by fellow students. Also, they'd like to know that campus counseling staff is allowed to share concerns about specific students with public safety personnel. They also indicated they believe they personally--along with faculty--have "a responsibility to report dangerous students."

Students were "modestly confident," the report said, "in the ability of faculty and staff to recognize dangerous students and to take appropriate action in the event of a campus‐based critical incident," and they were satisfied with the performance and quality of their schools' public safety offices.

Researcher George Burruss said that the immediate practical applications of this study suggest reinforcing public safety training, particularly emergency procedures, with students. "Students know there are safety plans in place, but they don't really know what they are," he said.

The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority funded the research.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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