By Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin
With college back in session, it’s an incredibly exciting time for students on campuses across our state. The world is at their feet and the future is in their hands — with hopes and dreams leading the way.
With all this excitement, understandably, come concerns about safety from families and loved ones. For many students, this semester marks the first time they’ve been away from home for any length of time. And for many parents, it means a whole new set of worries.
Will my daughter be safe walking to and from class? How will my son know whom to call if he’s in trouble? What about campus emergencies — is there a good system in place to communicate action plans?
The good news is our campuses strive each day for safety, and our state higher education system continues to create new policies to support these efforts.
Earlier this year, the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission hosted a campus planning and response discussion aimed at tackling three key areas: public health, safety and security, and weather-related events. Staff from both public and private colleges from around the state participated.
This event was a proactive approach to providing a safe environment for all members of our college and university communities. It allowed institutional leaders to share best practices about campus safety and learn about opportunities to partner with external agencies, such as the American Red Cross.
The commission also is in the process of finalizing a streamlined set of guidelines and procedures to direct the planning for and response to on-campus emergencies at our public four-year institutions.
Each of our campuses has an emergency plan in place, and many use text messaging as a quick and efficient way of communicating during emergencies with those on and off college grounds.
In addition, every institution that participates in federal financial aid programs is to keep and disclose details about incidents on and around their campuses. This includes publishing an annual campus security report that is made available to all students and employees, keeping a public log of any reported crimes, and sending timely warnings of events that represent an on-campus threat.
Campus police, local law enforcement, and student services staff at our institutions are well prepared to do their jobs, and they provide a wealth of information to students about safety, like always locking doors, getting to know campus safety officers, acting responsibly and being careful about what’s shared on social media.
As we all know, safety requires daily vigilance. As parents, campus leaders and community members, we need to continue working with our young people and encourage them to ask for help when they need it.
With the right precautions and a system-wide focus, our campuses are continuing to strengthen a culture of safety so our students — our sons and daughters — can focus on learning and achieving their dreams.
— Earl Ray Tomblin is governor of West Virginia.