Lawmakers began weighing ways Monday to prevent more tragedies on college campuses in a hastily convened Senate hearing a week after the shootings in Virginia. The hearing explored the adequacy of campus' mental health resources, security plans and communications systems.
"We are here to begin a discussion, in the aftermath of Virginia Tech, to make sure that we are doing everything we can to prevent any other campus and any other students and their families from experiencing the nightmare and loss Virginia Tech experienced," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who is chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Some of the most disturbing testimony came from Russ Federman, director of counseling and psychological services at the University of Virginia.
Federman ticked off a litany of statistics from a recent survey about the extent of mental health problems on campuses. He said that 94 percent of students reported feeling overwhelmed by all they have to do, and that nearly 50 percent reported having felt so depressed it was difficult to function.
In the same survey, 9 percent of students reported seriously considering suicide and 1.3 percent actually attempted suicide. School counseling centers are struggling to keep up, Federman said.
He cited a study from 1996 that found there was one full-time time clinical staff member for every 1,598 students. In 2006, however, the ratio had fallen to one per 1,697.
"We are not getting ahead of the curve," he said. "If anything, we are beginning to slide behind."
David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, which represents more than 1,800 college presidents, said many campuses were already taking steps to improve security. Ward cited the University of Memphis, which is installing a school-wide intercom system. The University of Iowa is considering a similar system.