Responding to Students of Concern

Best Practices for Behavioral Intervention Teams

Topics: Student Affairs, Student Health and Wellness, Mental Health and Counseling, Student Health Centers, Alcohol and Drug Use, Student Experience, Special Populations, Academic Support Programs

Practice #1: Campus-Wide Basic Training

Best-in-Class Training and Outreach Campaigns

Successful Initiatives Incorporate Four Critical Elements

To create a robust culture of referrals, the BIT must be visible on campus and proactively spread the word. As part of this research, the Forum identified four key elements in a best practice campus-wide training effort. These components are in-person training, quick reference materials, a dedicated website, and regular reminders.

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Less Is More

Streamlined BIT Presentations Stick with the Audience

The Forum’s analysis demonstrates that BITs must develop training presentations that are simple and streamlined. These presentations need a core message that focuses on the questions people want answered when confronted with a distressed student, such as what to do in an emergency situation. The end goal of BIT training presentations is to convince faculty and staff to make a referral if they are concerned about a student.

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Shifting the Referral Paradigm

Emphasizing Student Success Helps Destigmatize Referrals

While training sessions help communicate key information about the BIT, these presentations also play an important role in de-stigmatizing referrals. Some campus constituents may be skeptical about the team’s purpose, downplay their concern because they aren’t an expert, or fear that reporting a student will ruin their academic career. To alleviate these concerns, the Forum recommends positioning identification and referral as part of student success.

Everyone at the institution has a vested interest in student success, which can make individuals more willing to look for concerns and submit referrals. Marketing the team under the heading of student success, however, requires that teams scrutinize their branding, examining elements such as group name, mission statement, language choices, and training content.

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Focusing on Student Success

The University of Rochester’s CARE Network Marketing Initiative

One institution that stands out as an exemplar is the University of Rochester, which has a comprehensive market and branding campaign focused on student success. Their message starts with the group’s name (CARE Network) and runs through their imagery of the missing puzzle piece. To bolster campus awareness, the team has developed an extensive array of promotional items and giveaways for faculty, staff , and students, such as document flags, sticky notes, and puzzles.

This extensive marketing educates people to contact the CARE Network any time they notice a student of concern.

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Simple, Direct, and Visible

Supplemental Materials Provide Need-to-Know Information in a Pinch

While training sessions are an important first step, people also need quick reference materials they can consult when they are worried about a student and contemplating next steps. One popular tactic for supplemental materials is the quick reference folder that many institutions have developed across the past few years. These folders are either given as training takeaways or mailed to all faculty and staff members annually.

The University of South Carolina is one of the institutions who developed a quick reference folder. They launched their folder initiative in 2010 and distributed 5,500 folders to faculty and staff members in the first year. They continue to handout folders each fall at new faculty and TA orientation. Folders are also left in high-traffic offices such as the center for teaching excellence and the graduate school.

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Concise Information, Clear Next Steps

The University of South Carolina’s Garnet Folder

The University of South Carolina’s garnet folder contains several key pieces of information including the signs of distress, an overview of the BIT, and clear next steps for emergency and non-emergency situations. The creation of the folder was spearheaded by the Communications Director in the Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs and the BIT chair. Other BIT members participated in the initiative by brainstorming distress signs and revising folder drafts.

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Significant Improvements in Faculty and Staff Awareness

Folder Increases Community Knowledge and Participation

As part of the folder’s implementation, the University of South Carolina also administered a pre- and post-test to faculty and staff to assess the impact on community awareness. Their data showed that the quick reference folder substantially increased people’s knowledge about resources for distressed students and their willingness to make a referral.

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Responding to Concerns After Hours

Difficult to Find BITs Online

While printed materials are important, many concerns arise after normal business hours when faculty and staff may not have ready access to their folders. Currently, it can be very difficult for someone to find a website solely dedicated to students of concern.

At most institutions, information about signs of distress, resources, and the BIT is distributed across several different websites, including counseling services, student conduct, and campus safety. The lack of a central online location for information causes people to delay reporting concerns or to give up altogether.

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Creating an Online Information Repository

Ozarks Technical Community College’s BIT Website

The Forum recommends that institutions create a dedicated BIT website that is easy to find online and contains key information. Ozarks Technical Community College’s BIT website stands out as a best practice example. It includes a host of key elements such as links to the referral form, a clear statement of purpose, prominent instructions for what to do in an emergency, and links to additional resources.

Once the institution creates a dedicated BIT website, it is very important to drive traffic to it. The Forum suggests that the website be prominently featured in all presentations, supplemental resources, and printed materials. The team should also work with university IT and other units to place prominent hyperlinks on high-traffic sites such as the counseling center, student conduct office, and campus safety.

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Under the Umbrella of “OTC Cares”

OTC BIT Website Part of a Broader Student Success Campaign

Ozarks Technical Community College’s BIT website is part of a larger student success campaign entitled “OTC Cares.” The “OTC Cares” website serves as an umbrella for a variety of support services and resources including the BIT. Research contacts highlighted how the “OTC Cares” initiative also includes a prominent link on the institution’s homepage, helping faculty and staff to easily make a referral.

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The Half-life of Faculty Training

Familiarity with Referral Processes Decreases Over Time

After establishing a good foundation with basic training and quick reference materials, the fi nal component in a culture of referrals is frequent and ubiquitous reminders. Interviewees argue that faculty and staff need timely reminders about identifying students of concern, where to find information, and how it contributes to student success.

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A High-Profile Nudge

Georgia Tech’s Reminder Email Drives Referrals

One institution that has taken a smart and effective approach to reminders is Georgia Tech. Once a semester at midterms, the Dean of Students circulates an email to faculty members that solicits referrals for any concern. The email also links faculty members to a short video that offers helpful insights into when a student may require additional support from campus resources.

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Connecting with the Campus via Online Video

Participation of Senior Leaders Highlights the Importance of Referrals

The video was created in-house and features appearances by prominent university leaders including administrators from Student Affairs and Academic Affairs. Overall, the feedback on the video from faculty and staff has been overwhelmingly positive and interviewees anecdotally report that the reminders drive an influx of referrals to the Dean of Students office and the counseling center.

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Recalibrating Training Outreach

Practice #2: Role-Based Differentiated Training