AWARE Network gives WSU students a way to report worrisome behavior

When concerns arise about a student’s physical or mental health, the AWARE Network provides a platform through which these matters can be shared with people who can help.

The AWARE report portal asks for as much information as the reporting party thinks would be helpful regarding the student of concern, as well as the reporting party’s name, contact information and relationship to the student.

After a concern is posted, the information is reviewed by the AWARE Network team, which decides how to proceed in the situation. Reports are received by the Dean of Students’ Office and the directors of Counseling and Psychological Services, Health & Wellness, the Office of Student Conduct, the Office for Equal Opportunity and Residence Life, among others.

“It provides a way for students, faculty, staff and even parents to connect students with resources on campus in another way,” said Michell Jaworski, assistant dean of students. “It’s a good tool for people to be aware of.”

Although parents and community members do not have direct access to the AWARE Network, they can communicate concerns directly through the Dean of Students’ Office or Counseling Services.

Once reports have been considered, someone from the AWARE Network team contacts the reporting party to provide advice and assistance. Typically, they find a way to allow the reporting party to support the student rather than intervening themselves.

“Having a stranger call out of the blue can really feel awful,” said Cassandra Nichols, director of Counseling and Psychological Services. “So we sorta go with the philosophy or the idea that if they told you something’s wrong, then you’re probably the best person to try and get them the help they need.”

However, according to the AWARE Network website, they “may work with you to help you resolve the situation yourself, or step in with referrals or other actions.”

The process for each situation is tailored to its specific circumstances.

If necessary, reporting partys are advised on how to normalize counseling for the student they are concerned about, as well as how to provide support, such as walking them to counseling and sitting with them in the waiting room.

The AWARE Network team generally follows up with the reporting party to see if connections have been made and if they have worked out, Jaworski said.

Nichols said although something like it has been in place for many years, the AWARE Network became more prominent following the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, during which a gunman killed 32 people and wounded 17.

“Virginia Tech pointed out to a lot of universities that you need to have something in place,” Nichols said. “When we look back at Virginia Tech and the student that killed all those other students, different places on campus knew about him, but they all didn’t talk to each other.”

If a student is concerning to one group, then they’re probably concerning to others, Nichols said.

Keeping this in mind, the best practice is to have an efficient means of communication between groups.

The Dean of Students’ Office also manages the Student Care Team, which is composed of the people who receive AWARE reports. The team meets about every three weeks to discuss students of concern and what needs to be done to get them help.

According to the AWARE Network website, common signs of emotional or psychological distress include:

-A rapid or marked change in participation or performance in class

-Unusual or marked emotional response to events

-Mention of suicide or homicide in the content of coursework

-Significant change in self-care — personal hygiene, weight loss or gain, sleeping in class

-Unusual or inappropriate behavior or talk that concerns other students or interferes with the educational environment

In addition, the website distinguishes more extreme indications of mental health emergencies. These include:

-Direct suicidal or homicidal statements

-Confused, repetitive or highly irrational speech

-Extreme anxiety or panic

-Aggressive or threatening speech and behavior

-Inability to communicate

Reporting partys are typically faculty or staff, Nichols said, but students can also utilize the AWARE Network.

Jaworski said an AWARE report should be submitted when someone has concerns about a student they think other people at the university should know about, or when they feel they need extra help with the student.

As stated on the website, “When students are in distress, early intervention can make a big difference in outcomes.”