SOCAT takes violence prevention too far

In response to the growing concerns regarding campus shootings, colleges and universities across the country have taken active steps to prevent another tragedy, but an in-the-making program at USF may go too far.

Students of Concern Assistance Team (SOCAT) will identify and try to help troubled students and those with mental illnesses. The program will investigate individuals who have been reported by students, faculty and staff. It will represent a collaboration between several departments.

Alan Kent, assistant director of Student Affairs for Health and Wellness, said the program will hire a case manager to contact reported students and offer them help. He said the case manager would “make sure students don’t slip through the cracks.”

Offering counseling to troubled students who might not seek help otherwise is a good idea. However, SOCAT is developing a policy that will allow involuntary assessments or withdrawal from classes for students who refuse help.

Preventing tragedy should be a primary concern for USF, but forcing students with potential mental illnesses to undergo a psychiatric evaluation and disrupting their college careers is a questionable move.

Kent said these extreme measures would take place for cases that raise a lot of concern. However, forcing innocent people out of school won’t guarantee safety from a future shooting.

There is persistent perception in society that there is a strong correlation between mental illness and violence. However, most experts agree that mental illness alone is a poor indicator of violence.

Studies by the American Psychiatric Association found that the majority of people who have committed violent crimes had no history of mental illness. In fact, the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

Even if a student has a mental illness and the potential for violence, counseling, whether forced or voluntary, may not help. After all, Seung-Hui Cho, the student responsible for the Virginia Tech shootings, received mental help in middle and high school, as well as counseling at college.

Following the massacre, many tried to blame Cho’s counselors for not seeing the warning signs. However, experts who have reviewed the case believe the university followed the proper procedures. Dennis Heitzmann, director of Penn State’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, does not blame Virginia Tech.

“It isn’t necessarily that he fell through the cracks,” Heitzmann said. “It’s more like he found the cracks and hid in them.”

The same could be said for the USF students. SOCAT could be providing the cracks for students to hide in. Focusing on the mentally ill is a poor way to prevent violence, and SOCAT should not be allowed to take such drastic measures.