On February 10 & 11, 2023, St. Andrews Alumni Council convened on campus in Laurinburg, NC and by Zoom. President and fellow alumnus Keith Wade (‘87) was gracious with his time for a highly participative conversation about the safety and health of students on campus. In light of the tragedies reported by students recently, questions revolved around safety, rape, sexual assault, and victim support. Other health topics such as suicide and behavioral health also became relevant as the discussion progressed. This topic was also discussed at the Board of Trustees meeting, and some of the information below comes from access to that meeting.
Criminal Background Checks
There does not appear to be a consensus supporting the utility of criminal background checks in college admissions. When the UNC-Wilmington campus saw two separate student-to-student murder cases alleged within a short timeframe, UNC formed a special, campus-safety task force. They concluded that UNC should not run universal background checks. That same task force reported that over a three-year period, 1,086 crimes were reported on campus, and students were suspected in half of those.1 Ninety-six percent of those students had no criminal record.
Nevertheless, in 2006, UNC expanded their use of criminal background checks based on application red flags. Predictably, a later, peer-reviewed study found that these checks failed to reduce campus crime.2 This study, published in 2014, also observed that North Carolina was the only state to implement a criminal background check requirement.
Keith relayed similar professional experience and reported that his colleagues have also communicated this experience. So few incidents are connected with a criminal history, that using criminal background checks seemed unlikely to make campuses safer. At present, St. Andrews does not, routinely, run criminal background checks on student applications.
Sexual Assault Policy
The sexual consent policy on campus holds that:
- Only yes means yes.
- Consent can be withdrawn at any moment.
- The presence of intoxication means the absence of consent.
Policies also include these provisions (not verbatim):
- Ongoing counseling is offered if a student experiences sexual assault.
- Students receive training on consent, safety, and reporting.
- The campus provides a coordinator who is easily accessible to students for reporting sexual assault.
- All reports require a prompt internal investigation and a formal hearing, regardless of law enforcement involvement.
- The campus must also protect someone who reports against retaliation from anyone.
Policy and Performance Review
An internal review finds that the campus is and has been fully adherent with applicable regulations and that the campus exceeds regulatory requirements in certain regards. In addition to internal audits, recent tragedies signal a time for searching to ensure the campus knows and implements all the best practices for student safety. While Keith was completely open to all ideas coming from or through council, the consensus among St. Andrews Alumni Council was that, (given the complexity of these situations and to maximize the likelihood of tangible improvements in safety) policy proposals should be:
- with expertise in higher education specifically
- Ideally, new practices should be previously tested on a campus and proven to create safety
However, ideas about the nature and frequency of education on student health subjects were expressed. Topics included:
- More frequent education for students from outside authorities.
- Incorporating education as a standard part of SAGE (with possibility for routine use of expert guest speakers). This can be part of increasing the frequency as well as an opportunity for students to participate more fully in conversations and critical thinking surrounding the issues.
- Regularly scheduled reinforcement of student orientation on safety, consent, reporting, and consequences for perpetrators.
In this matter, “good enough” is never good enough. Council members are working to help contribute to the student-health-and-safety information and resources available to the administration for their constant improvement efforts.
- University of North Carolina. 2004. Task Force on the Safety of the Campus Community: Final Report.
- Hughes SF, Elliott TL, Myers M. Measuring the impact of student background checks on reducing crime in higher education. Public Administration Research. 2014 Nov 1;3(2):121.