TASC force jeopardizes student privacy

Someone’s watching you.

Staff and faculty members of our community have combined forces to create the equivalent of a spy organization with the purpose of analyzing students’ behavior and deciphering who poses a “threat” to our safety.

The newly established Threat Assessment and Students Concerns team, or TASC force, consists of Campus Life, Residence Life, Public Safety, Counseling Center, CCE, and Academic Dean’s Office members.

Once a week, the force meets to discuss each student who has been displaying suspicious behavior or excessive distress. In addition to talking about the student’s demeanor, the group will assess the best treatment for that individual. A typical approach, according to Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Aaron Fetrow, might be to send an RA to the student’s room to personally inquire about their feelings.

“It sounds like an invasion of my privacy,” said Sophomore Danielle Cayne. “If I’m having a bad day, that doesn’t mean I need counseling or to be talked about by the adults on campus.”

A common perception among college administrations is that violent attacks by students could be prevented with a proactive approach.

“In all these cases that you’ve heard about — Virginia Tech, Arizona — somebody said, ‘Yeah, we had this suspicion about that guy and we didn’t know who to tell.’ He acted crazy in class or his behavior really shifted,” said Fetrow. “So if a faculty member or a staff member or somebody working in Facilities has contact with a student and things are strange or behaviors changed, they can call this group, too.”

But what is the TASC force’s criteria for acting “crazy” and what constitutes a “shift in behavior”? The faculty and staff do not necessarily have the training to determine if we pose a threat to ourselves or others. There are moments when we, as human beings, experience shifts in mood and behavior in reaction to life events.

Director of the Counseling Center Gaither Terrell is key member of the force.

“My main role as a member of the committee is to bring the mental health professional’s perspective and to listen and advise the committee about possible next steps, such as arranging to make help available for someone in distress,” Terrell said via an email interview.

But that raises another concern — could this initiative even be effective?

“I think that a large percentage of us freshman probably would not respond in a way this group hopes for when confronted about personal issues,” said First Year Matthew Carter. “I just don’t think it would work … there are too many variables among students and situations.”

The TASC force’s aforementioned rationales for assessing and approaching a student do not seem to merit an infringement on my privacy, nor an invasion of my personal life. Additionally, they seem to violate the basic concept of open communication that Guilford College professes to embody.

It seems to me that the Guilford way of expressing concern for a student would be to simply approach them as they leave your class in a kind way. If a professor asked me how I was doing or noted I seemed to be acting differently in class, I’d be more inclined to respond honestly than I would if I were bombarded with questions in my bedroom by an RA that I barely know.

The disconnect lies between the TASC force’s backdoor judgments and the students’ real need for support. The more pertinent danger here is not the threat posed by distressed students, but rather the potential for distrust in the Guilford staff and faculty who are here to help us most.