Critical Incidents Team Helps Students Deal With Serious 'People' Problems

Published: Sept. 16, 1997

Critical Incidents Team Helps Students Deal With Serious 'People' Problems

Working behind the scenes at CU-Boulder on some of the most troubling situations that any university must deal with -- the injury or death of a student -- is a group of professionals known as the Critical Incidents Response Network.

When calls come in on a variety of people-related problems, the team members from 10 university offices activate an internal message network to share information and coordinate their responses with other members of the group.

According to Ron Stump, dean of students and chair of the Critical Incidents Response Network, the group aims to respond quickly to problems, to provide every available service to help victims and to follow up as needed.

“We started the network more than a year ago as a way of getting people on campus better connected to serve students’ needs,” said Stump.

Since then the team has handled several cases each month in the fall and spring semesters. Response to the improved service has been positive.

“What I’ve found is that for parents, the university seems much more concerned and attentive than they thought we would be,” Stump said. “Parents don’t expect that the university will be so personally involved in their son’s or daughter’s situation and they don’t expect such timely and responsive answers to their questions.”

Cases handled by the network include situations involving peeping toms, threatening phone calls, homophobic incidents, graffiti, arson, sexual assault or harassment, and serious physical injury. They also may include more serious cases of suicide and accidental death.

Amy Robertson, director of the Victim Assistance program, believes the network’s ability to trigger a quick response by several campus offices at once is one of the network’s best features.

“In the case of the student who died of meningitis last spring, having so many people respond at one time really helped everyone, both in terms of getting information out to students and in our ability to offer support to people who knew the student,” Robertson said.

The network’s ability to bring CU’s best resources to bear on a problem and to bring people together as a community is a major strength of the network, Robertson said.

In cases of student suicide, the network’s response enables university staff to quickly arrange gatherings or one-on-one sessions for people affected, including the student’s friends and faculty and staff. Those efforts have helped people deal with the loss and may help prevent depression among friends and acquaintances.

“In such cases, people typically experience shock, anger, self-blame and overwhelming grief,” Robertson said. “There’s a lot of intense emotion, so to hear other people talk about those issues is really important, it gives people something to hold on to.”

Robertson recalled a case in which a meeting sponsored by her office to help people cope with a death was attended by more than 250 people. “In a situation like that, it really helps people to see that they may have similar feelings and it helps prevent people from becoming alienated or isolated.”

Another real benefit, Robertson said, is that simply scheduling a meeting or a memorial service helps by involving grieving friends in an activity. The activity and its planning can help begin the healing process.

“Beginning to work on some sort of task, such as a memorial service, helps people begin to make meaning out of this person’s life,” she said.

The Victim Assistance office typically helps friends and relatives by sponsoring a group crisis intervention meeting where people can discuss their feelings. They also usually sponsor a followup meeting.

By working closely with other offices in the network, Victim Assistance has been able to extend the benefits of its services to include more CU staff in its efforts.

Stump has found that in dealing with friends of victims, the work of the network has had another positive benefit: friends often are surprised by the level to which their classmates are “connected to the university.”

“I often find that the friends of the students never realized how connected this person was to the university and how extensive their role was in the institution, not only through their academic accomplishments but through their friendships and other activities. It really has a positive impact on them.”

Members of the Critical Incidents Response Network include:

Ron Stump, Chair, Dean of Students

Rebecca Brown, assistant director of Victim Assistance

Suzy Campbell, associate director of housing

Dave Evans, CU police captain

Andrea Goldblum, director of judicial affairs

Jeannine Malmsbury, assistant director of public relations

Gloria Portis, manager of academic records

Dan Raybon, director of the Cultural Unity Student Center

Amy Robertson, director of Victim Assistance

Darcy Sease, director of counseling services

Constance Williams, associate director of admissions