The Parkland, Florida school shooting had a rippling effect in the Pierce community with students, faculty and staff advocating for campus safety and mental health awareness.
The Pierce College Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT) referral form is a tool offered to faculty on campus to provide a pathway for students with mental health concerns to get the help, support and services they need said Director of the Student Health Center Beth Benne.
“Let’s not just be the disciplinarian; rather, let us ask if the other person is okay.” Benne said.
The BIT form teaches facilitators how to notice when students show signs of mental health problems and may need professional help.
The administrators, faculty and mental health professionals that manage BIT at Pierce helped treat at least 5 students at risk of suicide in Fall of 2017.
“It was a big concern last semester, we hospitalized 10 times for suicidality last semester,” Benne said “it’s never happened in my 25 years here.”
School shootings have left an emotional mark on faculty, staff and students in many parts of the United States of America. A common goal that all school districts share is to ensure the safety of everyone involved. Whether it be students, teachers, faculty, staff or visitors, school districts work to suppress any potential violence from occurring.
Vice President of Student Services Earic Dixon-Peters said one of the incidents that urged the formation of the BIT at Pierce was the Virginia Tech campus shooting that occured on April 16, 2007, that left 33 people dead and 23 people injured.
Dixon-Peters said there is a workshop available at the beginning of each semester that goes in depth and explains ways for teachers and faculty to detect potential warning signs.
Benne said two to three BIT referral forms are turned in on a regular basis each week by faculty.
“Aside from the provided documentation and training for behavioral warning signs, I think we should rely on additional common sense,” Dixon-Peters said. “If something is strange, or if there is something odd in some person’s writing, we ask that teachers report it; even if they think it is nothing.”
The range of severity in BIT form cases can range from someone stressing over an exam to someone wishing to inflict pain upon one or more individuals. Sheriffs may become involved based on the severity of the case.
Deputy Sheriff Lazaro Sanchez has been a sheriff at Pierce College for about a year and a half, and he said sheriffs take action during times of urgency.
“We step in when somebody expresses concerns about suicidal thoughts, or when somebody tries to harm oneself or others due to a mental illness,” Sanchez said. “I just encourage anyone on campus to contact us at the Sheriff’s office if they see anything they think is suspicious behavior.”
The safety of everyone on campus is one of the biggest goals the BIT team hopes fulfill.
“If you see something, say something,” Benne said. “What if the person you’re worried about turns out to be another school shooter? Wouldn’t it make more sense to get somebody help early?”
Mental Health professionals at the Student Health Center said they are willing to speak to anyone who needs help.
The Student Health Center is located on the 2nd floor of the Student Services Building. They are open Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. On Fridays, they are open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.