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BOG unveils first-of-its-kind campus security report

CLARIFICATION: The UNC-system is the first college system in the U.S. to comprehensively address campus safety, but the campus security initiative is not the first plan introduced by the system.

The final report of a UNC-system campus security initiative — the first of its kind among state university systems nationwide — was unveiled Thursday at the Board of Governors meeting in Chapel Hill.

The initiative, launched by system President Tom Ross in August 2013, sought to evaluate potential system-wide solutions within three categories: emergency preparedness on campuses, sexual assault and harassment and alcohol and drug abuse.

“We are well ahead of the curve because of the work we’ve done,” Randy Woodson, chancellor of N.C. State University and co-chair of the initiative, said while presenting the report to board members and state higher education leaders.

The group issued its recommendations in the midst of UNC-Chapel Hill’s own review of sexual assault on campus led by a task force made up of experts, administrators and students. The State Bureau of Investigation is also investigating Elizabeth City State University after accusations surfaced that campus police ignored more than 120 reported crimes.

The report follows a national effort in the same security vein — a bipartisan U.S. Senate bill called the Campus Safety and Accountability Act, announced this week, would set national training standards for combating sexual violence and increase transparency on campuses dealing with assault allegations.

The initiative report cited 26 findings and 36 policy recommendations, which will require about $12.8 million in projected annual costs to implement. Funding sources for the plan have yet to be determined, Ross said, but will be discussed this fall.

A brief policy discussion among board members followed the report. Sexual assault, as well as the frequent correlation between alcohol and sexual violence, were focal points.

Nationwide data suggests 95 percent of all violent crimes and 90 percent of sexual assaults that occur in college campus communities involve alcohol, according to the report.

It’s not the first time the system has looked to bolster its campus safety efforts — in the 2008-2009 fiscal year, the UNC system received $6 million in recurring funding and $9 million in nonrecurring funds from the state for campus safety reform efforts. Campuses used the money to improve emergency systems, train more safety officers and hire more mental health professionals.

The 2014 initiative added to the work of two earlier Campus Security Task Forces in 2004 and 2007, especially focusing on sexual harassment and assault and substance abuse.

“It’s about time to enforce and put teeth in the efforts and the seeds that were planted over the last several decades,” said Gina Smith, an expert on sexual assault that UNC-Chapel Hill hired to help address campus sexual assault at the state’s flagship university.

Alcohol use and abuse on college campuses is no secret, and the report addressed potential ways of changing that culture — recommending that each campus form committees to develop strategies against binge drinking and have a substance abuse counselor on staff, plus eliminating any university-sponsored messages that could encourage partying or alcohol misuse.

“Many of us probably have memories of what the culture of alcohol drinking was when we went to school,” said Winston Crisp, vice chancellor of student affairs at UNC-CH.

“It’s not the same as it used to be,” he added. “More than ever before the entire purpose of (drinking) is to get drunk as fast as we possibly can so that our inhibitions can be lowered so that we can go out and do stuff that we wouldn’t dream about doing otherwise.”

Students who binge drink in college are more likely to drop out of school, work in less prestigious jobs and become alcohol dependent after college, Crisp said.

At Crisp’s comment that the common practice for a 21st birthday celebration is to drink 21 shots, the board erupted into surprised murmurs.

Despite resistance from board members who say binge drinking is ingrained in campus culture, Crisp said the problems with alcohol and drugs impact many students’ lives directly and merit significant action.“I don’t think we have the choice not to try.”

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