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A few weeks ago Illinois Central College joined with Congressman Ray LaHood in sponsoring the Ray LaHood Leadership Summit for high school students in our district. This year Congressman LaHood addressed homeland security. With the current state of affairs in our world, security where we work, learn, and live have become top of mind. 

A Gallup Poll released April 8 reported today’s teens have different worries than their counterparts of six years ago. In 1997, Gallup reported 41 percent of adolescents aged 13 to 17 mentioned drug abuse as “the most important problem facing people their age.” Today, only 16 percent view drug abuse as the most important problem.

A new issue, war and terrorism, tied for second place, with “problems in growing up” at 12 percent. Gallup concluded, “For many teens, the current status of world affairs is only exacerbating their natural anxieties about the future.” Among adults, a January CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll found terrorism is the number one issue constituents want the U.S. Congress to address.

While providing a safe and secure learning environment has always been a priority for colleges across our nation, today security has broader implications for campuses everywhere. The February/March 2003 issue of Community College Journal deals exclusively with issues of safety and security, including terrorist threats, biosecurity, cybersecurity, and the security of academic freedom of speech.

The post-September 11 world has created significant challenges for colleges. With the dawn of security threats, colleges are faced with new issues. How do we balance the confidentiality of the student’s record with law enforcement agencies’ right to know about students’ religion, country of origin, or political activities? How do we care for students experiencing grief and anxiety in the wake of terrorist attacks? How do we respond if we face an attack? As community colleges, how can we work with our community to help protect it from terrorism?

Rose Pfefferbaum, director for the Terrorism Preparedness Project for Phoenix College in Arizona, believes the community college can play a significant role in addressing the issue of terrorism. She advocates the community college should be part of a community-based network to respond to terrorism. She believes community colleges “are an ideal place from which to reach the general public, provide information about disasters, and develop education, training, and services for the broader community.” She advocates community colleges develop terrorism preparedness programs and curricula, develop counseling programs, and develop disaster response plans.

Like the rest of America, September 11 caught ICC by surprise. But shortly after the news, we made counseling services available for students and employees, set up formal communication networks, and held hourly debriefing and planning sessions until we were confident the danger was over. ICC worked with local law enforcement agencies and the state government to make sure the campus was secure. Our staff worked with local professionals to provide outreach sessions for ICC faculty and staff, as well as the community, and our students and employees organized remembrance services and donation drives for the American Red Cross.

Like the rest of the country, we learned quickly about what we needed to do for our physical safety, as well as for the emotional wellbeing of our students and staff. However, recent polls show us citizens of our country and our community still fear threats to their safety. Now, more than ever, colleges like ours have an obligation to our students, staff, and community to monitor security and advocate for systems, services, and programs that make our colleges secure. We continue to work to meet that obligation. IBI

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