Helping students through hard times but also setting boundaries when a student’s behavior becomes disruptive were among the subjects addressed at Tuesday’s Student Affairs Conference.

The conference, in its third edition, had the theme of “Communication & Collaboration” and took place at the Anschutz Medical Campus. A record 190 people registered for the all-day event, which focuses on student issues, but also gives colleagues on the Denver and the Anschutz campuses a chance to share expertise.

“It’s critical that you begin to work and talk with people outside of your comfort zone here,” Raul Cardenas, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for student affairs, told the gathering. “Please reach out to folks in different areas to learn what they do and vice versa. Share what you do.”

The 2013 conference featured a wide range of sessions and topics, including campus safety, depression and psychiatric disorders, career advising for students, the Lynx Center, multigenerational workforce, university branding, veteran issues and financial aid.

2013 Student Affairs Conference:

Drawing a large crowd was the combined session on “Identifying, Responding to and Serving Distressed and Disruptive Students: A Collaborative Approach to Increasing Campus Safety and Reducing Student Risk.” Presenters were Jenny-Lynn Ellis (Counseling Center), Larry Loften, M.A. (Community Standards and Wellness) and Kristin Kushmider, Ph.D. (Case Management).

Their full presentation can be viewed here (pdf).

Their main message in a 90-minute presentation — which included entertaining video clips and a role-playing session — was “if you’re worried about student behavior, submit an online form” on the CARE Team (Campus Assessment Response & Evaluation) website, “I think that’s the takeaway. That’s what we want,” Kushmider said. “Go to the CARE form and submit it.”

Loften said many problems can be defused by simply slowing down and taking the time to listen to a student. “Identify the problem before you solve it,” he said.

Kushmider agreed. “Have patience for our students, and report early (if there’s a problem),” she said. “It’s hard for us to address a situation when we get a report that says, ‘This is the fourth time a student has been in our office and behaved that way.’ If we could be notified after the first time we can help provide some additional support and intervention for the staff and the student.”

Ellis provided strategies for dealing with distressed students. They included: listen with kindness; hold your role as a professional; ask direct questions about support; and offer to refer them to help.

She also listed tips and resources for counseling referrals:

  • Student Mental Health, 303-724-4716
  • Counseling Center, 303-556-4372
  • Attend to your language, tone and follow-up.

The session covered confidentiality issues, strategies for de-escalating a disruptive student, identifying distressed students and best practices for serving both the student and yourself. The audience asked many questions on these topics and others. The presenters stressed that anyone can report an incident that’s potentially problematic.

Loften noted that student behavior is not covered by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. “FERPA is important,” he said, “but safety in itself is more important, and FERPA recognizes that.”

Kushmider said the BETA Team changed its name to CARE a few months ago, noting that “we felt CARE was just more reflective of what we do.” The team takes a wholistic approach to addressing student concerns and issues. “I think sometimes students are afraid to approach faculty and administration, for whatever reason, so we need to be reaching out to them and making those connections,” she said.

Likewise, everyone on campus needs to take a proactive approach to safety and student issues, they emphasized. When in doubt, Kushmider said, report the incident. “Not everything you share with us ends up being reviewed by the team. It could very well be, ‘Here’s some tools for you to manage the situation,'” she said. “But … if you’ve had this interaction with a student and, we have four reports of other offices on campus that have similar interactions with the student, it helps us identify a bigger picture of what may or may not be going on.”

CARE functions as a central location for receiving that kind of information and identifying patterns of behavior.

Loften said faculty and staff “can be our own worst enemies” by giving in to problematic student behavior. “That’s not really supportive,” he said. “That may solve our problem today, but it creates a lot of problems in the future. If we reward bad behavior we’re going to get more bad behavior.”

The conference’s keynote address was delivered by Brenda Allen, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor of diversity and inclusion. She spoke about the benefits of collaboration as well as barriers to working together and how to overcome them.

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