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Kansas State University

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How should a professor respond to a student who is expressing symptoms of depression or suicidal tendencies? What does one say and how does one say it? These are questions that a recently-implemented K-State at-risk training program is addressing.

SafeZone logoThe training is offered through SafeZone, a 25-year-old campus program that addresses safety issues for all K-State community members. SafeZone is composed of faculty, staff and students, known as SafeZone Allies.

"The allies are trained to listen, support and assist students in finding help through campus resources," said Dorinda Lambert, SafeZone coordinator and associate director of K-State's counseling services.

Over the summer, Lambert took the concept of safety a step further, introducing an online pilot of the at-risk training program. She said it has been so successfully received that some departments have given the at-risk training to their faculty and staff who are not SafeZone Allies.

During the at-risk training, an ally or other faculty/staff uses an interactive training simulator, similar to a video game. The player -- in this case the SafeZone participant -- takes on the role of a college instructor. The objective is to find three students within the class who are at risk for factors like suicide, depression and anxiety. To aid in the search, the player is given access to a student's attendance record, grades, behavior and appearance. Once the information is analyzed, the player can then approach the students believed to be at risk. A conversation tree allows for different dialogue options as the player attempts to find the best way to not only approach the student, but gather verbal information from that student in an effort to get the best help needed.

Lambert stressed that the training does not give allies or other faculty and staff the same skills as the professionals to whom the students will be referred; it does, however, give them more confidence in reaching out to students in need.

To illustrate what many college professors may be facing, Lambert said one needs look no further than to the at-risk training simulator's introductory video.

SafeZoneIt begins with a professor talking about a student in his class who started becoming frequently absent and turning in work late. One day the student showed up in the professor's office and apologized for his attendance, saying his mother had recently been killed in a car accident. The professor tells the player that he wanted to say something meaningful to the student, but that he did not know how or what to say. Eventually, the professor discovers that the student has not only dropped out of his class but out of school all together. It ends with the professor saying he believed things would have been different if he had been able to tell the student something.

Lambert said this is the exact type of situation we want to avoid at K-State.

"We want it so that students don't just drop out of school if they have a problem," she said. "We want to get them the resources necessary to get back on track and become successful at K-State."

Lambert said the SafeZone program gives instructors, faculty and staff the tools necessary to do just that for the students.

Lambert also said that SafeZone will soon be able to help with student-to-student interactions. Currently, Kognito Interactive, creator of the at-risk training program -- is developing peer-to-peer scenarios to train student leaders in residence halls, Greek houses, clubs and campus organizations.

The next SafeZone Ally training will be noon to 2 p.m. Monday, April 5. Applicants can register at the organization's Web site, Enrollment is open to everyone on campus.

SafeZone is an acronym for Students, Staff, Administrators and Faculty for Equality. The program was expanded with the assistance of the K-State Campaign for Nonviolence, and is a coordinated effort between the office of student life, the women's center, the affirmative action committee and counseling services.