The mission of Seattle Central College’s Behavioral Intervention Team’s (BIT) is to provide a safe environment for the campus community through collaboration, information collection, risk assessment, and intervention.
BIT’s history began in the Spring of 2011 as a way to address reports of students being disruptive, getting angry or being threatening — but also to find ways to support students that didn’t necessarily rise to the level of a student conduct issue.
Dr. Yoshiko Harden, Ed.D., Vice President of Student Services for Seattle Central College has worked in the community college system for 18 years. She says that campuses in 2011-2012 were struggling with a way to deal with campus shootings and identify students in distress.
“Faculty and staff didn’t know how to address those issues because they weren’t necessarily conduct or criminal related, but they were a concern,” said Harden. “We’re not a police state. We don’t want students to feel threatened.” But Harden says she does want students to understand that certain displays aren’t the appropriate way to respond to a difficulty in their lives. “Most of the time, students are just angry and upset. They’re not acting on a threat.”
Harden says that campuses initially used the terms ‘care teams’ and ‘students of concern’ to better address the category of students who were not necessarily violating conduct policy or committing criminal acts, but whose behaviors pointed to specific emotional states such as depression, or other sudden changes in their performance.
Harden reiterated that the conduct process should never be a punitive one. “It’s designed to be a development process. Our last resort is to separate a student from the institute or expel them. We want them to complete. They are in a time of learning. Everyone is a college student the first time.”
The majority of reports received stem from students experiencing life challenges that impact their ability to successfully complete their academics.
Students may share with a staff or faculty member that they’re struggling with an issue. The BIT will follow up with the student, where appropriate but they don’t “identify” students. Instead they support faculty, staff and students when students are referred to the BIT. For example, a report might reach the BIT about a student feeling despondent, a faculty member may take that student aside to discuss their behavior and offer them on-campus counseling opportunities. But even if the BIT reaches out to a student, counseling isn’t a mandatory action. The BIT doesn’t have policy authority.
“While the BIT doesn’t create policy, it does give us a better sense of issues that students are grappling with,” said Harden. Each report is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. If the team feels an issue rises to the area of misconduct, then it is addressed at that level.
There are 34 other community technical colleges in the state, and SCC’s BIT will occasionally bring in other teams to discuss best practices for the purpose of program improvement. For example, there was a previous position for a ‘student conduct officer’ on SCC’s BIT, but when they met with Green River’s own BIT, it was decided that this position had the potential to introduce bias and so that position is no longer included on the BIT. “We want to reduce bias,” said Harden, who also feels it’s important that students receive due process, and that the student’s side of the story be understood.
No training or background is required to join the BIT, and it is not a paying position. The BIT has no annual quota to meet in order to justify cost or existence, nor does the BIT have much in the way of an economic footprint – or an electronic footprint. In the interest of confidentiality and security, the BIT’s student records are maintained on paper only.
“We’re actually thinking of changing the name,” said Harden. “Sometimes there are valid reasons for a behavior, and we don’t want students to think that their behavior necessarily is a problem.”