Office of Student Advocacy helps identify students of risk

Faculty, students and staff are being offered a new resource from the Office of Student Advocacy, which was established on campus just three months ago to address serious psychological or behavioral issues that have arisen in the student body.

Dr. Shannon Ledesma, Associate Director of Student Support and Advocacy, explained that her role is to “help faculty and students refer and manage students of concern.”

The office seeks to address the grey area for the campus in addressing issues for students that are disruptive or impeding the learning of campus community.

“There have been a series of violent events on college campuses across the nation,” Ledesma said, referencing Virginia Tech and other such tragedies. These have caused a national movement on university campuses to develop ways of identifying at risk students with severe issues and diffuse the danger they may pose to themselves and others.

Prior to this movement, these students did not fall under any particular jurisdiction: professors are not trained to deal with these issues, nor are they necessarily solved by conduct citations.

Such concerning conduct, Ledesma says, includes bizarre or erratic behavior, hostility, or a severe change in mood or character. The signs fall into four levels of behavior ranging from level one which includes serious grade problems and a drastic change in appearance or mood, to level four wherein a student is threatening or potentially violent or suicidal. Level four cases should be referred directly to emergency services such as security or police, as the Office of Student Advocacy is not a 24-hour crisis help line. Nor, Ledesma emphasized, is it a place you call if you got a bad grade, or don’t like your professor.

Throughout fall, Ledesma will be working to educate faculty and staff on what constitutes a student of concern who needs to be referred, and how that process is accomplished. From referrals to her office she will direct students to one of four resources depending on the issue: academic help for those needing assistance in school, counseling for stress issues, the conduct office for behavior that is a violation of the student conduct code, or to the Student Intervention Team for issues that are more appropriate for the team to review.

Ledesma is the only person currently working in the Office of Student Advocacy; however her extensive education and experience in psychology her more than qualified for the job. Ledesma atttended Notre Dame as an undergraduate where she earned a degree in psychology, then went on to earn her PhD at the University of Iowa. As for experience with at risk students, UWT is the third student counseling center where Ledesma has worked. At Pacific Lutheran University, she served with the counseling center’s emergency reaction team, and has also worked with at risk students in the counseling center at UW Seattle.

If all goes as planned, the new Office of Student Advocacy will give a resource to those on campus who need more than basic counseling and prevent students from falling through the cracks. For more information on identifying and referring someone at risk visit http://www.tacoma.washington.edu/studentaffairs/advocacy_about.cfm

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