Creating Safer Campuses through Implementation of Threat-Assessment Teams: Are They Enough?

Michele L Toppe, University of Pennsylvania


According to higher education policy experts, “Campus threat assessment is not merely a recommendation, but an emerging standard of care.” However, despite evidence of the emergence of this standard and the consistency of recommendations that comport with those made by the Virginia Tech Review Panel, college campuses continue to vary significantly in their approaches to threat-assessment protocols. This study examines the extent to which campuses in the state of Illinois do vary and seeks to understand better the reasons for that variation. This research also examines the status of threat-assessment policies and protocols being conducted on three campuses and how the implementation of recommendations that followed Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois shootings have contributed to the creation of more optimally safe campuses. The study also examines the prevalence and consistency of the barriers that impede institutional efforts to detect and mitigate campus threats of violence. Research sites included Northern Illinois University, where an incident of violence occurred in 2008, and the University of Illinois–Chicago and Illinois State University, where an incident of such magnitude has not yet occurred. The findings suggest that in states where the implementation of threat-assessment protocols and policies has been mandated by state law, campus leaders perceive these required measures to increase the preparedness of the campus environment. The research also suggests that even in Illinois, a state where such policy schemes are mandated, variation in the application of these policies and protocols persists. Findings suggest that even in states where policies are legislatively mandated, campuses continue to experience barriers to full implementation of recommendations that might lead to greater preparedness, including ambiguity regarding how best to balance the obligation to protect individual privacy and community security and to address self-harming behaviors and suicidality, the limited utility in zero-tolerance standards, institutional constraints in policy adoption and participation by the campus community, and insufficient dedication of institutional funding and support. The most significant barrier, however, was the unrealistic expectation that campus personnel be able to predict future behavior and events.

Subject Area

Higher Education Administration|Educational administration

Recommended Citation

Toppe, Michele L, "Creating Safer Campuses through Implementation of Threat-Assessment Teams: Are They Enough?" (2017). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI10281353.