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New program aims to help ‘disturbed’ students

University officials are taking a “proactive role” in preventing events like the Virginia Tech shootings from happening at USF, said Alan Kent, assistant director of Student Affairs for Health and Wellness.

Students of Concern Assistance Team (SOCAT), which will be run from the Student Affairs office, will help “distressed, disturbed and troubled students,” Kent said.

SOCAT will operate under the Health and Wellness department of Student Affairs, he said.

The program encourages students, faculty and staff to report troubled or disturbed students on campus, Kent said.

Kent said a disturbed or troubled student could be one that is “writing threatening letters” or “intimidating other students or causing havoc in the residence hall or in the classroom.”

SOCAT is developing a Web site, e-mail and telephone lines for people to report a troubled student, Kent said. He said the program is also in the process of hiring a Student Affairs case manager.

The case manager would follow up with claims by approaching the reported person, checking with their professors and seeing if other people have reported a similar concern, Kent said.

“(The case manager’s) purpose is to work with students to help ensure they are getting the help they need – to make sure students don’t slip through the cracks,” Kent said.

SOCAT will consist of Kent as chairperson and representatives from Housing and Residential Education, the Counseling Center, Student Health Services, Academic Affairs, University Police and the Dean of Students Office.

Kent said the members will meet regularly, reviewing the reported concerns and deciding whether a student needs help and support.

“Our goal is to help students,” he said. “The emphasis is on helping troubled students get the support and assistance they need to keep them in school and be successful.”

SOCAT can offer individual counseling, medical care, family counseling and substance abuse treatment, among other things, Kent said.

A policy is being developed by SOCAT for mandated assessment or involuntary withdrawal from classes for the students who refuse to get help, he said.

“(The policy for mandated assessment and involuntary withdrawal from classes) is not fully in place yet,” Kent said. “We are working with the University attorney, because of course there are legal implications with that.”

In the involuntary assessments, an authorized doctor will determine whether a person has a medical or mental health illness and what type of medical help or treatment, if any, is needed, Kent said.

SOCAT would mandate that the student get a psychiatric evaluation or medical evaluation and then withdraw from school, he said.

“It would force that student to take a leave of absence, get help and have the opportunity to come back,” Kent said. “They would not have a black mark on their record. It wouldn’t show up as a conduct problem or behavioral problem. It would show as a medical health problem.”

He said that action would be used infrequently and only in the case where SOCAT was extremely concerned about a student who refused help.

Charles Winters, a junior majoring in electrical engineering, said people should pay attention to their friends and classmates to increase awareness.

“If people with problems could come forward and talk about those problems – if someone could get through to them and help – it could prevent a situation such as the Virginia Tech shooting,” he said.

Kent said he is hoping to have SOCAT operating by the end of the year.