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Progressive Voice: Campus Safety and a Lasting Tribute

Larry Roberts

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or ARLnow.com.

Over the past two weeks, many Arlington families have taken their daughters and sons to college for the start of the fall semester. As the home to university campuses and education centers affiliated with colleges and universities, Arlington also welcomed many students arriving for the new school year.

Arlington’s public schools have demonstrated over the years that they provide excellent preparation for success at colleges and universities in Virginia and across the country.

Yet success in the classroom is not the only important component of a successful college education. We have seen ever stronger evidence of the prevalence of unwanted sexual advances on college campuses. We are gaining greater knowledge of the impact of binge drinking. And we are making advances in identifying and working with students suffering from depression.

Fortunately, very few parents will ever experience losing a loved one on a college campus.

However, in one of the darkest days in the history of our Commonwealth, 32 families lost loved ones at the hands of a mentally disturbed gunman. More than two dozen others were wounded or seriously injured that day in April 2007 in Blacksburg. Many of the victims and survivors were from Northern Virginia.

The loss felt by the victim’s families and the impact on the survivors was profound.

Despite their losses, however, the families were determined to make a positive and lasting tribute to the 32 who were killed — through programs designed to help colleges and universities be safer and more secure.

As Counselor to the Governor, I worked closely with many of the families in developing a comprehensive settlement of their potential claims against Virginia Tech and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Part of that settlement was the establishment of a VTV Family Outreach Foundation.

In that effort, I came to admire the families for their desire to honor their loved ones through insuring that survivors received the health care they needed to recover from their injuries, through applying lessons learned in how to work effectively with grieving families, and by joining together to uncover all of the dimensions of campus security.

Over the past several years, the VTV Family Foundation has laid the groundwork for a new integrated approach to improving campus safety.

In August, the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative was unveiled in a moving launch event at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts. We heard from a family member of a student victim, a student who survived three bullet wounds, law enforcement personnel, national leaders in school safety, and deans of students at participating universities that include George Mason and the University of Florida.

The Initiative creates a forum where national experts can develop best practices and resources with the guidance of survivors and victims’ families.

To improve campus security in a positive, proactive way, the 32 NCSI also provides a free, confidential, self-paced program of that provides colleges and universities with a new resource to better assess themselves in areas such as alcohol and drug use, campus public safety, emergency management, hazing, mental health, missing students, physical security, sexual violence, and threat assessment.

The determination of the VTV Family Outreach Foundation to prevent another tragedy of the magnitude of the one that took place in April 2007 is a testament to the human spirit and the determination of good women and men to selflessly help students and their parents feel a greater sense of security.

The Foundation will need additional private and public support to expand its mission. I encourage parents of college students and Arlingtonians generally to learn more at www.vtvfamilyfoundation.org or www.32NCSI.org.

Larry Roberts is an attorney in private practice. A resident of Arlington for over 30 years, he also spent four years in Richmond as Counselor to Governor Tim Kaine. As Counselor, he was tasked with leading the Commonwealth’s ongoing response to the tragedy at Virginia Tech.

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