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Panel addresses culture of violence in schools
school violence panel pic
AAUW's Ending the Culture of Violence on School and College Campuses panelists included Stanislaus County Office of Education Superintendent Tom Changnon, Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson, Behavioral Health and Recovery Services Director Madelyn Schlaepfer, Tom Ciccarelli, executive director at the Family Justice Center, and University of Pacific Vice President for Student Life Patrick Day. - photo by ALYSSON AREDAS / The Journal

Audience members waited with bated breath as Oakdale Police Chief Lester Jenkins carefully formulated his answer on whether or not he personally believed that security personnel should be authorized to carry concealed weapons on school campuses.

“I don’t have a problem with law-abiding citizens who have proper training with firearms,” said Jenkins. “Now, as far as on school campuses, I would also not have a problem with properly trained security personnel having firearms, but the issue really falls back to the schools. It is not really my call—but I would be happy to work with them on it.”

“As the sheriff I am not going to overrule the school,” added Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson, “but this is a very difficult issue and one that has been subject to much debate on whether or not someone on campus who is carrying a concealed firearm is able to defeat the same immediate threat that faced Columbine or Connecticut or any of those."

Whether or not guns belong on school campuses was only one topic addressed Thursday night at the American Association of University Women’s “Ending the Culture of Violence on School and College Campuses” as five panelists also discussed crime, high school dropouts, sexual assaults, substance abuse, family unites and mental health.

University of Pacific Vice President for Student Life Patrick Day discussed in depth the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses, citing the issue as something “plaguing every college campus.”

To combat this, Day insists that a collaboration between student leaderships and administrators is essential to ensure a level of accountability, as well as to develop processes that will keep each institution safe.

“We have a real challenge before us,” said Day. “There is not going to be a ‘done’ place where we’re all set. This is something that—if we have even just one student on our campus who is a victim of sexual assault—we have more work to do.”

Tom Ciccarelli, executive director at the Family Justice Center, relayed his efforts to protect those who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse and how this passion enabled him to open a center in 2010.

Ciccarelli cited that there are over 100,000 women a year that report sexual assault in the United States. Albeit a big number, he revealed that that’s a small piece of the puzzle as only 10 percent report an incident.

 “Does that mean that there are one million women a year?” asked Ciccarelli.

“We need to be proactive and we need to be changing the culture of manhood in this country,” added Ciccarelli. “There are some horrible things being done to women across the county with drugs and alcohol.”

When it comes to school violence, Behavioral Health and Recovery Services Director Madelyn Schlaepfer cited various risk factors, including substance abuse, low parental involvement, inconsistent supervision, antisocial peers, and socially disorganized neighborhoods.

On the other hand, protective factors encompass religiosity, connectedness with family or parental figures, and aggression replacement therapy training.

“As part of our prevention and early intervention programs, we really focus on developing protective factors,” said Schlaepfer. “The results have been helpful as some are now attending college and some have become youth advocates for mental health awareness and stigma.”

Stanislaus County Office of Education Superintendent Tom Changnon was also in attendance to discuss bullying issues, crisis response trainings, and high school graduation rates.

To assist students who are on an academic journey for their high school diploma, Chagnon showcased the county’s Destination Graduation initiative, which aims to increase graduation rates in Stanislaus County through best practice sharing, mentoring programs, and awareness campaigns.

“Without a high school diploma, you’re going to have a problem achieving whatever your vision of the American Dream is,” said Chagnon. “Our effort county wide is to get young people who are starting high school graduating four years later.”

“Ending the Culture of Violence on School and College Campuses” was the effort of coordinator Arlene Jones, who decided to take action upon hearing of the shooting rampage that devastated the community of Isla Vista near the University of California, Santa Barbara last year.

With the help of UUAW, she brought the panel to fruition.

“We can’t afford another catastrophic event to arouse the short-lived anger we see each time students on our campuses are assaulted,” said Jones. “We are all affected as societal illnesses invade what should be a safe haven—our schools.”