One of the biggest barriers people face with getting help is feeling comfortable enough to come forward and say it’s needed. At Grand Rapids Community College, the Behavioral Intervention Team, or BIT Team, was established to help prevent students or staff from reaching that point.
While campuses can’t prevent traumatic events, they can provide ways to give students a sense of self worth, accomplishment, and above all, a safe environment.
“Here at GRCC, our number one goal is the safety of the students and community,” said Evan Macklin, assistant director of Student Life and Conduct.
Sometimes when someone’s wall stays up, they can attempt to harm themselves or others, unfortunately shown through tragic mass shootings that have happened recently in the U.S.
“What happened (in Oregon) is very, very troubling, but the best thing you can do is to be prepared, to have a team in place, to take a look at students who are or may be in crisis, and help those students resolve that crisis,” said John Cowles, Dean of Student Success and Retention.
The GRCC Counseling and Career Center offers counseling for staff and students beyond academic guidance.
For Sarah Vansolkema, GRCC student and president of the campus LGBT support club StandOut, the college has been a lifesaver.
“The staff here has been very good when I needed help,” Vansolkema said. “Some people have gone over and above what they needed to, to help me.”
The BIT Team encourages everyone on campus to be on watch for troubling behavior.
“If you’re walking down the hall and you notice someone who just doesn’t feel right to you, you should report it,” Cowles said. “Go with your gut instinct. If you’re concerned about someone, ask them how they are doing. Certainly we don’t want to isolate people because sometimes it’s a rather simple thing. It’s just connecting with someone.”
Taking the time to care about others and find out what’s bothering someone, can potentially prevent problems from getting out of hand.
“That student (from Oregon) poten- tially was never on their radar, and it (may have) just happened randomly,” Macklin said. “You never really know, so you have to help students get connected to clubs, get connected to staff and faculty, and make them feel welcome here on campus. Make them feel respected, and look out for one another.”
The BIT Team also gives referrals to community organizations outside of GRCC that can help.
“We certainly refer a lot of folks to Network 180, Arbor Circle, and other community based resources,” Cowles said. “If a student has no health care for example, typically the referral is to Network 180.”
The members of the BIT Team include Cowles, Macklin, Associate Provost and Dean of Student Affairs Tina Hoxie, Counselor and Assistant Professor Emily Nisley, Lieutenant of GRCCPD Jeffrey Hertel, campus Police Officer Tony Myers and Executive Director of Operations and Planning Vicki Janowiak.
“We do a good job of trying to get staff in high service areas around campus where they might potentially encounter students that are going through some rough times or challenging times,” Macklin said. “When our team is diverse and well represented around the college, it allows us to make sure we are covering a lot of different areas.”
Usually staff and faculty seem to be the channels that most reports come through because students report to them. The staff members can then bring the concerns to the BIT Team.
There are many reasons a person may reach a point where they don’t know who or where to turn to.
“I would encourage faculty and staff and students to talk to people if something doesn’t feel right, or something is kind of odd, just talk to them,” Cowles said. “If it’s still odd, tell someone else about it.”
The BIT team ensures that safety is always the most important factor.
“Certainly if there was a situation where we felt that someone was a danger to themselves or others, we would remove them from campus,” Cowles said. “If we know that someone poses a threat, either an employee or a student, we will involve either medical professionals or law enforcement professionals, or both if necessary.”
To report directly to the BIT Team, go to www.grcc.edu/bit or call any staff member on the BIT Team.
“If you think about from the very beginning of time, the village took care of its villagers,” Cowles said. “So really a college has to take care of its staff, students, and faculty, just as any organization takes care of each other.”