Panel Arms Students with Knowledge to Combat Violence


Today’s students are tomorrow’s professionals, and they will carry responsibilities that extend far beyond their normal day-to-day duties.

Spurred by recent incidents of school violence around the nation, Curry College hosted an informational forum on Monday, March 4. The event, which took place in the Hafer Parents Lounge, was centered on violence in school settings. More specifically, though, the discussion sought to provide students with greater insights about how they might help prevent acts of violence during their future professional careers.

The discussion, which was both interactive and educational, gave students the opportunity to talk with professionals and academics in the areas of education, mental health, criminal justice and the media. The panel consisted of four Curry professors as well as the chief of the college’s Public Safety Department, Brian Greeley. The professors included Dorothy Alexander of the Education Department, Laura Kirsch of the Psychology Department, Jeff Lemberg of the Communication Department, and Stephanie Cappadona of the departments of Criminal Justice and Sociology. Associate Dean of Students Rachel King and Assistant Dean of Students Allison O’Connor co-hosted the event.

The recent mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., has launched many debates and discussions about the role of guns, mental health services, the media and public safety.

The recent mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., has launched many debates and discussions about the role of guns, mental health services, the media and public safety.

To get the discussion going, each of the panelists was asked to give advice to students on how to think about the problem of gun violence in their respected disciplines. The conversation rapidly took off with students eventually asking questions regarding their own concerns and interests. Approximately 60 students were in attendance.

Topics of discussion included the recent shootings around the nation, including in Newtown, Conn.; how schools remain a safe zone despite such shootings; the normalization of violence through video games, movies and even news media coverage; and the relationship between mental illness and school violence.

Professor Alexander began the discussion by explaining that today’s educators are relied on for far more than just teaching. “The world has changed dramatically,” she said. “Schools are not just about education anymore; they’re also about social issues, supporting kids outside and inside the classroom.”

Alexander also spoke about the need for educators to increase their skill sets and to better understand how to work with children and their families.

Cappadona and Greeley both emphasized the importance of minimizing bullying in schools, citing the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre in which senior Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people and injured 17 others. Cho, who suffered from an anxiety disorder, had reportedly been bullied and treated poorly for most of his life at school.

It’s the responsibility of teachers and students alike to be aware of unusual behavior, and to report their suspicions to campus police in an effort to prevent future incidents, they said.

Curry has a number of safety protocols in place for emergency situations, said Greeley, who noted that he was “trained to believe everyone in a building is my son or daughter, and it is my job to protect them.” There are two sirens on campus to alert students—one on top of the radio station and one at the ARC. Curry also has six different ways to communicate with students in the event of an emergency, including email and text messages.

Junior politics and history major Jonathan Ward said he thought the panel had great timing.

“Obviously, with the Sandy Hook [Elementary School] tragedy and the assaults that have taken place on our own campus recently, something like this is great for students to speak their minds. I think it was really constructive,” he said.

In the past two months, Curry has seen two assaults occur on its campus. One of them was a sexual assault in a residence hall. In the other, a student was hospitalized after being physically assaulted by two non-students in a dispute over drugs. O’Connor said the panel discussion was not in reaction to those incidents, but rather about helping students prevent gun violence during their future careers.

Many of the panelists advised students to gain experience in multiple disciplines, instead of just the ones they’re majoring in. They emphasized the importance of understanding psychology, sociology and communication. Panelists also advised students to stay engaged, through reading, researching and learning. Everyone has the ability to contribute to the fight against school violence through greater awareness and education.

“The event was so informational,” said senior education major Kristin Hager. “I learned how to be more aware in the classroom setting, especially dealing with early education students, and feel empowered to do anything I can to ensure that this type of violence doesn’t occur in my classroom.”

Professor Kirsch and Alexander repeatedly emphasized that school shootings are uncommon, despite what many people think given the large amount of news media coverage they receive. Nonetheless, professionals should be prepared.

“It’s imperative to keep emotions and fears in check,” said Alexander, “and to prepare intellectually for an traumatic event.”

Corrin Donahue contributed to this article.

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