Jane Bost

Jane Bost, associate director at UT Counseling and Mental Health Services, thinks the new goal of focusing on these issues is a great thing for the University.

Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

Updates to federal laws have prompted a more focused response to domestic violence, dating violence and stalking crimes on campus, according to a University official.

According to Jennifer Hammat, institutional Title IX coordinator and assistant vice president for student affairs, universities are now required to report these crimes because of changes made this year to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, a federal law that deals with crimes like sexual assault or other violent acts against women, and the Clery Act, which requires colleges to keep and disclose information about crime on and near
their campuses.

Under the updated laws, this year the University reported domestic violence, dating violence and stalking crimes for 2013 in its Annual Security Report for the first time.

In an email, Hammat said the statistics in this year’s report are a general attempt by the University to collect data, but, in the future, all U.S. colleges and universities will be required to report on these crimes.

“The recent updates … mandated that the University make a ‘good faith effort’ to report on domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking for the 2014 report,” Hammat said. “The Clery Act language has now been revised to reflect that all colleges and universities report on these crimes going forward.”

The report states that 15 counts of dating violence, 25 counts of domestic violence and 36 stalking incidents happened on or near campus last year.

Hammat said the University is also working to provide training for students and employees about issues of violence and has increased the number of mandated reporters, or people who are required to report a crime if it is told to them, on campus.

“We have increased the number of Campus Security Authorities on campus from around 250 people to just under 2,000 people,” Hammat said. “The hope is that if a student tells someone in authority (a supervisor, an academic advisor, the police, an administrator) the more likely the crime can be reported. Once it is reported, that provides us an opportunity to assist the employee or student with resources [and] support.”

Jane Bost, associate director of prevention and outreach services at UT Counseling and Mental Health Services, said she thinks updated laws, such as these, and an increased focus in the media have played a big role in raising awareness of domestic and dating violence.

“In the past 13 years, I have never seen a time where there has been this much focus on these issues, which is wonderful,” Bost said. “I think it really started with the White House task force report last year, and then there were these changes [that] are really getting people’s attention. Certainly, when you talk about opinion leaders, like sports figures and athletes … it brings more attention.”

Last summer, the CMHC worked with other campus organizations to get a definition of consent included in the sexual assault policy and created a Title IX resource guide for survivors that provides information and options about services the CMHC offers, Bost said. 

Erin Burrows, prevention and outreach specialist at Voices Against Violence, said events such as Relationship Violence Prevention Month in October and the Be An Anchor fundraiser event this month have also raised awareness of relationship violence.

“We work with student organizations to raise awareness and fund raise for the Emergency Survivors Fund,” Burrows said. “Last year, we had 25 student organizations that raised over $8,000 from October to April.”

Bost said the University will continue its efforts to provide resources on these crimes, but the new reporting guidelines are a step in the right direction.

“We can always improve, but I really think we’re meeting and exceeding in these efforts,” Bost said.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Update (2:19 p.m.): In response to a man’s death by suicide Sunday night in front of Littlefield Fountain, the Counseling and Mental Health Center is making active attempts to spread word of suicide prevention resources through social media, according to CMHC Associate Director Jane Bost.

“That’s how we’re responding this morning — just making sure that word is out there, that we’re available if there’s a need for anyone enrolled as a student here to know about our services,” Bost said.

Bost said the center has reached out to Texas Parents and other groups since the incident occurred.

“We’re just acknowledging that this has happened and making sure that people are aware of the services at CMHC at this time,” Bost said.

A crowd of roughly 100 people gathered around the fountain after midnight Monday morning as rumors spread about the incident.

UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey said a campus police officer was present when the victim shot himself.

“We had gotten word that he was coming to campus because he put a post on Facebook,” Posey said. “An officer was walking up when it happened.”

Posey said the man was only determined to be a threat to himself and not the campus as a whole, which is why the University only tweeted about the incident and did not send a University-wide email or text message.

“We tweeted because other people were tweeting and wondering what was going on,” Posey said. “We try not to abuse the system, because we want people to always take our emails seriously when there is a serious threat. We try not to send out too many so that people become desensitized — so we only do that when we know it’s a threat.”

— Julia Brouillette

Original story: A man died by suicide Sunday night in front of Littlefield Fountain, according to UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey. The man, who was not a UT student, faculty member or staff member, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after being taken to Brackenridge Hospital, Posey said.

According to Posey, UTPD officers were notified about the incident at 11:51 p.m. when someone saw a concerning post the victim wrote on social media. The man was transported to the hospital at 11:57 p.m. and pronounced dead at 12:13 a.m.

"Our thoughts go out to the family and friends of the victim," Posey said. 

If you or anyone you know is considering self-harm, here are University and community resources:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.

UT Counseling and Mental Health Center Crisis Line: 512-471-2255

Behavior Concerns Advice Line: 512-232-5050.

For more resources, click here.

Correction: This article has been corrected since its original posting. Though a UTPD officer arrived at the scene during the incident, the man died at Brackenridge Hospital.

A new government plan aiming at reducing sexual assault on college campuses will raise awareness and promote a more coordinated approach against violence and sexual assault at UT, according to a University health official.

A White House task force committee formed the plan after surveying college administrators, assault survivors and other interested groups. The plan includes voluntary steps colleges can take to prevent sexual assault, assist survivors and increase transparency by making information about sexual assault more widely available.

Erin Burrows, prevention and outreach specialist at Voices Against Violence, said the new plan will increase attention toward the problem of sexual violence.

“Most people don’t want to talk about violence and harm, so this is a step in the right direction,” Burrows said.

The plan includes such steps as conducting campus climate surveys, increasing bystander and intervention programs, and providing resources for victims of sexual assault to get help. Although campus climate surveys are voluntary this year, there are goals to make them mandatory by 2016. As part of its recommendations, the White House also launched a new website, NotAlone.gov, that allows students to look up sexual assault data on specific campuses and file Title IX complaints.

According to the task force, one in five female college students has been sexually assaulted, but only 12 percent of them report the attack.

Jane Bost, associate director at UT Counseling and Mental Health Services, said a campus climate survey would be helpful to collect more data on sexual violence incidents on campus, even though the University has already implemented many of the committee’s recommendations.

“One of the things we don’t have that the plan recommended is a campus climate survey looking at just those issues, so that would help a lot with learning more about general student attitudes and how we can improve our programs,” Bost said.

The task force committee found bystander intervention programs, in which students who witness violence or harmful relationships on campus can take action, were one of the most beneficial ways to prevent sexual assault. Bost said the University launched a new program in April, called BeVocal, to address this issue.

“One of our goals is to improve the way we mobilize men and bystanders to be aware of and prevent sexual assault,” Bost said. “I think it’s an area we can be more aware of and address it in a more focused way.”

Marilyn Russell, deputy advisor to the Dean of Students, works with the BeVocal program and said the plan was part of a coordinated effort to streamline access to resources for students. 

“It’s about all of the different issue areas working together to reduce harm here at UT,” Russell said.  

Bost said the University will continue its efforts to improve access to resources for assault survivors. 

“It’s always an ongoing effort,” Bost said. “We can always improve.”

Photo Credit: Alex Dolan | Daily Texan Staff

Voices Against Violence, a student organization, will be hosting multiple events throughout April to promote Sexual Assault Awareness Month. 

Take Back the Night, the biggest event of the month, will take place on Wednesday on the Main Mall and will offer the public a chance to hear from keynote speaker Luz Guerra, a human rights activist who has worked against violence for the past 30 years.

Participants can also watch performances, enjoy art installments and take advantage of free food, while learning about various resources the University offers. Observed by different groups around the country, Take Back the Night serves as a protest and rally against sexual violence. 

Though different in form, all of the events have common purposes: to challenge barriers, give power back to survivors and ultimately promote prevention. Erin Burrows, prevention and outreach specialist for Voices Against Violence, said two of the most important ways to challenge mind-sets toward violence are starting conversations and redefining consent. 

“We all come from different cultures and backgrounds where talking about sex at all is taboo and talking about sexual violence is especially taboo,” Burrows said. “I really do believe every time we have a conversation about sexual violence we are moving toward prevention.” 

According to Burrows, properly defining consent is also key. Violence is not reported out of fear or shame, or because many victims would not define their experience as abuse. According to the Counseling and Mental Health Center, consent is “an active agreement to engage in a certain act or be exposed to a certain situation.” 

Clarifying that survivors are not victims is also a significant part of the program. The organization is hosting a workshop a few days before Take Back the Night to help prepare survivors who want to speak and share their stories at the event. The workshop will help participants process what they experienced and decide what they want others to know. If survivors want to tell their stories but aren’t ready to speak in front of others, they can write on notecards that will be hanging at the event.  

Burrows said the organization has shifted toward a focus on prevention and strives to raise awareness and have conversations now, instead of when it’s too late. 

Voices Against Violence was first created in 2001 by Jane Bost, associate director at the Counseling and Mental Health Center, to meet the needs of an ever-growing awareness of on-campus violence. Before the organization was created, the mental health center estimated it only received 10 reports of sexual violence per year. Since it was established, the center has had roughly 900 cases. Bost said the programs have been successful in creating a more open and friendly environment in which students feel safe to report such crimes. 

“We’re trying to reach and prevent these kinds of issues way before you get to the point where you’re calling the police,” Bost said. “So we have conversations now about healthy relationships. We have reached thousands and thousands together with the Theatre for Dialogue and Get Sexy. Get Consent.”

Burrows, who first wanted to be involved with sexual violence after her close friends was a victim of it, suggests students remember the acronym BLOG when they confront violence. It stands for believe, listen, offer options and get support. Although offering options is significant, listening to and believing in someone’s story is the most important method of support, according to Burrows.

“Even just knowing that there’s efforts going on on this campus to not only address sexual violence, not only to get resources in the hands of those who need it most, but to have the foresight to prevent sexual violence,” Burrows said. “We want everyone to feel safe here and connected here, and one way to do that is to ensure that we’re having honest conversations about real issues.”

Benjamin Spear, UT Counseling and Mental Health Center staff member, speaks at a stress management workshop hosted by the Student Employee Excellence Development Program on Tuesday afternoon. The workshop aimed to educate students about different ways they can handle their stress.

Photo Credit: Jarrid Denman | Daily Texan Staff

It is no secret college students are stressed. The real secret is how to handle this stress. 

In a stress management workshop hosted by the Student Employee Excellence Development Program Tuesday, Dr. Laura Ebady, UT Counseling and Mental Health Center staff psychologist, talked to students and young adults about how to deal with overwhelming stress both on their own and with services offered through UT.

In the 2012 National College Health Assessment Survey taken by the UT Wellness Network, students indicated that stress is their biggest handicap to academic performance. This finding has been reflected in the same survey for several years.

“Clearly, for us, that is a big indicator that students are needing additional help in managing work in addition to other things they are involved with,” Ebady said. “I think college students have stressors that are unique to them in that this is the first time they are living on their own. Especially in a school the size of UT, it can be overwhelming figuring out where you fit in … It’s a whole lot to learn all
at once.” 

Ebady recommended deep breathing to the workshop participants as a way to provide perspective to stressful situations. In addition, stress-management services are provided to all students through the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center. These services include a MindBody Lab, a Stress Recess website and counseling.

Dr. Jane Bost, UT Counseling and Mental Health Center associate director, said students experience more stress in college now than in previous years. University counseling centers are seeing more crises over the last 10 to 15 years than ever before, according to Bost.

“There’s more pressure [now] just to get into college, and then the academic standards have gotten more rigorous,” Bost said. “It seems that it is a harder balance for students to handle and balance all of the demands in their lives.”

With all of these factors in play, some students feel that a certain degree of stress is inevitable. Neurobiology sophomore Taylor Lindgren said she thinks stress is not necessarily a bad thing.

“I think that a healthy amount of stress is an inherent part of college,” Lindgren said. “Things important to you should stress you out — like getting good grades — but not overwhelmingly.”

Bost said it is important to be able to differentiate healthy stress from unhealthy stress.

“One of the things we talk about with stress is it’s not that we want to get rid of it. It’s not a bad thing,” Bost said. “Most of us, without some level of stress, wouldn’t perform well. It’s not a case of getting rid of stress, it’s a case of managing it and trying to keep it at a level to maximize performance.”

Additions to the Violence Against Women Act will better protect students on campus, University officials said.

The latest version of the act, passed by Congress in February, will require colleges and universities to strengthen policies regarding sexual assault and now address instances of hate crimes.

Jennifer Hammat, institutional Title IX coordinator and assistant vice president for student affairs, said the 70 required changes will increase the protection of students on campus and will likely help report crimes that may not have previously been reported.

“The transgender community will now be protected and that makes the campus a safer place for people in that situation,” Hammat said. “Stalking will also be a reportable crime, although that can be difficult to determine.”

The campus changes would add categories including national origin and gender identity to hate crimes, which will now include domestic violence, dating violence and stalking incidents reported to campus security or local law enforcement. These amendments will be implemented in the University’s 2015 Annual Security Report. 

Ayesha Akbar, journalism, humanities and liberal arts honors senior, said the legislation is especially valuable in a university setting. Akbar is president of UT’s Amnesty International chapter, which promotes awareness of human rights abuses, including sexual violence. 

“It’s incredibly important for college campuses to address sexual violence in order to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students,” Akbar said. “Sexual violence is, unfortunately, very prevalent on college campuses and we must target it by preventing assault and ensuring that victims of assault receive support and have access to necessary resources from campus officials.”

Jane Bost, Counseling and Mental Health Center associate director, said the act has a significant impact on campus because it originally helped fund Voices Against Violence, a program housed in the center. The program is now fully funded by the University, which shows UT’s commitment to preventing and addressing violence crimes, Bost said.

Voices Against Violence aims to prevent sexual violence, which they define as any kind of sexual contact against a person’s will and without consent, including sexual assault, rape and sexual abuse.

Bost said the center uses an empowerment model to help victims of sexual assault, allowing them to make the choice whether to report the incident to various campus authorities. Those authorities that help in pursuing criminal or civil cases and medical advice include the dean of students and Student Judicial Services.

“We will continue to offer all these options and work with them, whether they want to report it or not.” Bost said.

Bost said the Mental Health Center would not have to change any policies or submit any extra information for the campus annual report of such crimes. The center is not required to report any confidential information in its voluntary annual security report. 

Elizabeth Wilson, a counseling psychology graduate student, talks about suicide prevention in the Union Tuesday evening. Wilson told students the warning signs of suicide and ways to help people get counseling.

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students, a statistic UT Counseling and Mental Health Center officials hope can be minimized by raising awareness in the campus community.

Monday marked the beginning of UT’s fourth annual Suicide Prevention Week, organized by the Counseling and Mental Health Center. Throughout the week, the center will present seven interactive programs focusing on topics like learning to cope with a death by suicide and recognizing the signs of suicidal thoughts.

“We want to help remove the stigma from suicide prevention and mental health,” health education coordinator Marian Trattner said. “This week is in place to make students aware that there are resources out there to support them.”

Trattner said an average of three UT students die by suicide each year, which is consistent with the national average. Eighteen percent of undergraduate students in the United States have seriously considered suicide, said Jane Bost, associate director of the Counseling and Mental Health Center.

Trattner said organizers are changing this year’s suicide prevention week so it has a greater focus on social media and its role in suicide prevention. She said students are urged to follow UT’s Counseling and Health Services on Twitter and post any questions they may have about suicide or suicide prevention using the hashtag #SPWChat. The Twitter conversation will continue throughout the week using the hashtag #UTSPW. The center is also presenting an interactive program on suicide prevention via social networking sites Wednesday.

“There has been an increase in the media about people who reach out and cry out about suicide through social media, particularly through Facebook and Twitter,” Trattner said. “Since we have these outlets and tools, we want to continue to use them in a positive way.”

Bethanie Olivan, president of the UT chapter of To Write Love On Her Arms, a nonprofit movement aimed at helping people struggling with depression, self-injury and suicide, said she thinks the problem is prevalent in college students because of the stressors present during that time in their life.

“Our identities aren’t totally clear yet, so many people end up rooting their identities in grades and how others perceive them,” Olivan said. “When things in these realms go wrong, it can lead to a sense of hopelessness and thoughts of suicide.”

Bost said one of the goals of Suicide Prevention Week is to encourage students to take advantage of all of the suicide prevention resources the University has available. The UT Counseling and Mental Health Center offers in-house psychiatric services, stress reduction exercises and free year-round telephone counseling to help students deal with depression and suicidal thoughts.

“There is nothing shameful or embarrassing about your struggle,” Olivan said. “Reaching out for help is the best thing you can do and is a sign of strength. Therapy or medication can be the difference between life and death.”

Suicide Prevention Week ends Friday at the Texas Union building in room 3.116 from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. with a workshop aimed at teaching students to recognize the signs of suicidal thoughts in their friends and refer them to professional help.

Printed on Wednesday, September 26, 2012 as: Suicide prevention week informs students

After officials announced Thursday that Bastrop residents in the Circle D and KC Estates area could return home to view damages, Austin resident Karen Fergurson accompanies friend to his home. The worst in Texas history, the wildfires in Bastrop have burned more than 34,000 acres and have caused two deaths.

Photo Credit: Danielle Villasana | Daily Texan Staff

A soaked book rested on a table with plain paper towels between every few pages to dry it. Nearby, students and community members removed soot from burned documents with a soft brush and dry rubber sponge.

These demonstrations were part of a workshop the School of Information hosted Sunday to teach volunteers how to salvage documents and potentially help people affected by the wildfires in Central Texas.

School of Information lecturer Karen Pavelka organized the workshop and said the school felt compelled to assist wildfire victims by holding its first public workshop.

“We have faculty who have a lot of experience with disaster preparedness, disaster planning and disaster salvage,” Pavelka said. “If people have wet documents or wet heirlooms or things that are very fragile, we know how to handle them as safely as possible, and we want to help however we can.”

Pavelka led the workshop with Rebecca Elder, adjunct assistant professor in the School of Information, and Virginia Luehrsen, information studies graduate student.

Luehrsen advised volunteers to work in teams to prevent becoming overwhelmed or overworked.

“If you’re with a team, the nice thing is that you can say, ‘Okay, I need a little time out,’ and somebody else can step in and work with that family,” she said. “The family doesn’t feel abandoned, and you don’t feel that all the pressure is on you.”

Jane Bost, associate director of the Counseling and Mental Health Center, said losing a home or important personal possessions to a fire is one of the most traumatic and stress-inducing experiences a person can have.

“It totally goes against what you could expect or would be reasonable because it’s such a rare kind of loss,” Bost said. “They have a loss of sense of control of their lives, and it’s almost hard to imagine.”

Bost said the ability to salvage important personal items from the wildfires could comfort people by giving them a connection to the time before the fire.

“That could help people just to have something, some kind of object that was valued in their lives that’s associated with positive memories,” she said.

Bost advised those affected by the wildfires to reach out for help. She also suggested positive distraction activities and focusing on daily goals to manage stress.

“It’s hard to do, but I think it’s really important to set the goals for ‘What do I get through for today? What can I accomplish for today?’ not trying to figure it all out, because it can be very, very overwhelming,” she said.

Information studies graduate student Carlos Duarte said he looks forward to using the knowledge he gained in the workshop to help people affected by the recent wildfires.

“I think a lot of people assume once something’s wet or smoke damaged, they have to just throw it away,” Duarte said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to convince them otherwise.”

From cranking up the tunes to loading up on water, UT students are looking for ways to curb test anxiety with finals for summer classes approaching at the end of this week.

Jane Bost, associate director of the Counseling and Mental Health Center, said the center tends to see an increase in students seeking help with stress and test anxiety as the semester progresses and finals approach.

“A lot of what we see are students trying to build skills to manage stress,” Bost said. “Being at the UT is a great opportunity for students to learn how to better manage their stress before they leave here and don’t have the same access to all these great resources.”

Bost said the center tries to make help accessible by offering interactive videos, animations and quizzes on their website for students to learn to better handle the demands of their academic and professional careers.

“We have a 24-hour telephone counseling line, several workshops and ways students can learn relaxation techniques to use before exams,” she said. “We really put a high priority on helping students gain the skills to manage their stress.”

Diana Damer, a psychologist at the center, said students have been found to have higher test scores when they engage in 10 minutes of expressive writing about their anxiety before an exam.

“One thing we know about anxiety is if left untreated, it gets worse over time,” Damer said. “The things we do to manage it in the short run, like avoiding the cause of stress, end up making it worse in the long run.”

Damer said some students may feel so anxious thinking about an exam that they avoid studying altogether. It is important not to let a past failure or bad grade hinder you from trying to succeed in the future, she said.

“An optimal level of anxiety for any given task can be motivating,” Damer said. “It is unhealthy when students find themselves worrying weeks beforehand, having trouble sleeping or performing well. The idea is we’re not trying to eliminate anxiety but keep it at a healthy level.”

Undeclared sophomore Zachary Congdon said he feels attending a prestigious university can be stressful because it makes students feel pressured to succeed.

“I like to drink about a liter of water and study to something like soft rock, maybe a little piano, to keep myself relaxed,” Congdon said. “On my way to tests I jam to hardcore rap like the Ying Yang Twins to really get me ready to go.”

Ayesha Akbar, journalism and psychology sophomore, said she is trying hard to balance fasting for Ramadan this month with studying for her cumulative final in Arabic on Friday.

“Since I’m studying for a language course, I’ve been trying to write the words down repeatedly until I know them well,” Akbar said. “To relax, I always take a break by watching an episode of my favorite show, ‘Glee.’”

Black and Hispanic college students are more likely to face family crises that reduce their chances of graduating on time, according to a study presented at an annual conference Saturday.

Bradley Cox, assistant professor of higher education at Florida State University, and Robert Reason, associate professor of education at Pennsylvania State University, studied the frequency and effects of stressful family situations for more than 2,500 students in 22 selective institutions. Family crises included a parent losing a job or a family member becoming a crime victim.

They found about 40 percent each of black and Hispanic students experienced a family crisis during their sophomore year ­— which was nearly 6 percent more than white students and nearly 20 percent more than Asian students.

Cox said black and Hispanic students were likely to come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, which makes them vulnerable to family crises.

“We presume that the students in those colleges have some form of advantageous background or support network, at least when compared with your typical college student,” he said.

Cox said universities should take a more proactive approach to identifying the many students facing family crises by early alert systems.

In fall 2010, 122 of more than 51,100 UT students withdrew for medical or mental health reasons, said senior social worker Judith Mitchell. Jane Bost, associate director of the Counseling and Mental Health Center, said family crises could impact students in a variety of ways, including finances and concentration abilities.

“Their first priority may not be academics,” she said. “What’s going on may cause disruption to concentration, sleep, nutrition.”

Bost said the center tries to combat the stigma surrounding mental health by giving presentations tailored for specific ethnic groups, hosting public events and offering counseling alternatives, such as telephone counseling.

“We try to provide all these different entry points through the outreach that we do or the training that we do,” she said.

Richard Reddick, assistant educational administration professor, said family crises were especially burdensome for students of lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

“There may not be resources in the family to help you continue to go to college if something traumatic happens,” he said.

Through his research on mentoring, Reddick found black students are more reluctant to discuss life stresses with faculty because they try to avoid being seen as a burden. He said when faculty members explain their own difficult situations in the past, it can be helpful to their students.

“It tells them first of all that you care, and second that you have experiences that perhaps they can benefit from,” he said.