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Fear of the Known — and Unknown

Just three days before the campus shootings at Northern Illinois University last month, I sat in the morning plenary session at the annual American Council on Education meeting titled “Campus Security, Response and Recovery.” Judging by the number of people that attended the session and the Q&A that followed, campus security post Virginia Tech—and now NIU—is a very real concern among university officials.

Virginia Tech President Charles Steger, who was a panelist, says his university has a new threat assessment teamand that he nowmeets with every campus police officer that VT hires. These are just two of the steps the university has taken since that tragic day in April last year.

 But now another campusmourns the loss of members of its community. Young lives taken too soon in a violent, senseless act. Students sitting in a lecture hall,where they should be. Campus officials are having to come to terms with the fact that members of their own community—students, faculty and staff —may pose the biggest threat. How do colleges and universities assess that threat and how do they best protect and alert their campus communities?

This is our annual technology special report, and before the NIU shootings, Diverse correspondent Peter Galuszka was scheduled to report on the growing business of electronic notification companies. Unfortunately, the recent events at NIU again highlight the need and use of this new technology.

At the ACE panel, Princeton University’s police chief Steven J. Healy said that campus officials shouldn’t think that a text message system will solve all the problems in the case of an emergency. The text message alerts must be accurate, useful and timely to be helpful, he said, adding that only 30 percent of a university community typically sign up for such alerts, a point also made in Peter’s article, “Emergency Notification in an Instant.” But, said Healy, each time his own campus has had to activate the emergency alert system, campus participation increases.

University officials are sensitive to today’s campus threats—guns on campus, high-risk drinking, violence against women/domestic violence — but Kent State University President Lester A. Lofton said what concerned him most was the unknown, what will be tomorrow’s threat? And how do you prepare for the unknown?

Switching gears, Diverse senior writer Ronald Roach reports on the progress historically Black colleges and universities have made in upgrading their campus technology. In 2000, a study undertaken by the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education found HBCUs lagging in IT development and became the basis for federal legislation aimed at bridging the technology gap. HBCU and technology officials say that much progress has been made in the area of computer labs and student ownership of computers. Readmore in“Making Strides.”

And in “Providing a ‘Full Circle of Support,’” contributing editor Mary Annette Pember reports on the American Indian Science and Engineering Society’s efforts over the past 30 years to encourage Native students to pursue STEMdisciplines. And although American Indians are still severely underrepresented in the sciences, AISES founders take pride in the fact that they have helped take “the legs off themyth that American Indians can’t domath and science.”

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