Columbine. Virginia Tech. UT Austin. The road to safe campuses is paved with conflict. It is a road that school officials and lawmakers continue to travel.
The horrors of campus shootings resurface in the news even years after they have happened. Thousands of acts of violence mar the picture of safe campuses every year. The viral nature of media spreads these stories to millions and often propels the issue of campus safety to the forefront of the public’s mind. The need for increased safety led TJC to implement changes over the past year from the controversial lanyard policy to the installation of hundreds of cameras.
While the changes appear to have helped, both administrators and Campus Safety officials see more opportunities to improve safety. Among them are ways in which students can help themselves. Executive Director of Campus Safety Tom Johnson wants more people to show respect for each other and to tone down the loud and negative language.
“That language seems to inflame a lot of the issues that we’ve had,” he said. “A lot of it has been because of negative, harsh, foul language that drives someone else to want to fight.”
A safer campus is a goal of both proponents and opponents of the proposed legislation to allow concealed handguns on campus. But some are concerned that the escalating conflict that propels people from a disagreement to a heated argument then to a fight may lead them to even more violent action if they are allowed to carry a concealed handgun.
“It’s a dynamic,” said Director of Campus Safety Randy Melton. “We have disputes out here among students or sometimes a student goes to an instructor to dispute a grade. That’s going to change the dynamics. That professor is going to wonder, ‘Is that student armed or not?'”
Students also see a danger in introducing concealed handguns into those dynamics.
“Students already have problems with different neighborhoods and where they from so why would you let them have guns,” said Freshman Travoy Martinez.
Both Johnson and Melton agree that whether the law will make campuses safer or not is unknown. But they emphasize that Campus Safety’s focus is on preventing crime. Practicing civility can prevent a disagreement from becoming deadly and is a focal point for school officials.
“We’re working on civility on campus,” said Melton.
The work is being spearheaded by a Civility Task Force which TJC President Mike Metke appointed. Members of the task force include faculty, students, staff and Melton.
“We discuss things about civility [and] try to make our campus East Texas friendly,” said Melton.
According to Johnson, dressing for success encourages civility.
“We’re trying to train these students for the work force and professional life. If you’re walking around with your pants around your knees, it’s probably a good chance that you won’t get hired right off the bat in a professional organization,” Johnson said.
Johnson also sees it as a way to minimize differences that can lead to conflict.
“That actually incites,” Johnson said. “Because then you get some group calling another group this or whatever … because if you have one group against another group then that’s just not right … and a lot of it comes from the dress.”
According to Johnson, students should apply the idea of maintaining a professional appearance not only to their personal image but also to their environment. He encourages students to use the trash receptacles and to take care of the new outdoor furniture. Not only does doing so maintain the aesthetics of the campus, it plays a key role in preventing crime.
“It’s called the Broken Window Syndrome,” Johnson said. “In a neighborhood, let’s say someone has a broken window and they don’t fix it. Before long there could be some graffiti there. In other words, it keeps getting worse, whereas, if you fix that broken window as soon as it’s broken then it’s less likely.”
Seemingly little things lead to other little things which begin to add up.
“It’s a slippery slope,” Johnson said. “That’s how if you go to a neighborhood they say, ‘30 years ago this was a beautiful neighborhood,’ is they allowed it to creep up on them slowly, but it creeps up on them.”
Johnson also added that people can help keep the campus safe by simply wearing their lanyards.
“I would put in big print ‘Not In Your Pocket’,” Johnson said. “We’re not interested in seeing the lanyard holder, we’re interested in seeing the actual ID because it allows us to know who is actually supposed to be on campus.”