March 26, 2008

Cornell Crisis Team Helps Students in Need

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Justine Oller grad spent the early morning hours of Jan. 30 without shoes, her wallet, a jacket or a cell phone, watching her East Spencer St. apartment as become consumed by flames.
The blaze had been started by a stray cigarette, which burned all night after being thrown from the window of a neighboring duplex. The fire spread from the adjacent apartment to Oller’s duplex, destroying her next-door neighbor’s apartment and damaging hers. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but Oller was left without a place to live.
Oller got a ride to a friend’s house, where the Cornell Crisis Management Team, who was alerted by the Ithaca Fire Department, contacted her. Founded in the mid-’80s, the nine member team works to help students in times of crisis. [img_assist|nid=29129|title=Always be prepared|desc=EMTs Alec Johnson ’08 and Andy Lazar ’10 stand outside a Cornell University Emergency Medical Services van. The CCMT may call on other services, such as the EMS, to inform it of emergencies.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“While I was trying to get things organized, a woman from the CCMT called me to ask if I needed anything, which was really, really nice and helpful,” Oller said. “Catherine [Holmes, associate dean of students,] put all the balls in motion for who to get in touch with.”
Holmes, a member of the CCMT, offered Oller temporary emergency on-campus housing at Hasbrouck Apartments, complete with clean sheets, towels and soaps, and put Oller in touch with someone who was able to help her find permanent housing.
The CCMT also picked up the tab for Oller to use Hired Hands, a student services organization, to move her recovered personal belongings to her new apartment. In addition, Graduate Student Services contacted Oller, offering her a contingency grant for $1000 to reimburse her for expenses for the rental car and lost possessions, which she has also used to pay for cleaning her fire-damaged belongings and for the higher rent at her new apartment.
Although the resources given to Oller were generous, her case was just one of the approximately eleven cases per week handled by the CCMT. These situations range from accidents to deaths of family members to student deaths.
“It is not unusual for a crisis manager to carry a very large caseload, but each person is treated as if his or her case were the only focus,” Kathy Zoner, deputy chief of the Cornell University Police Department said.
The on-duty crisis manager can be paged during a week long shift to help coordinate resources after an incident has occurred to provide support to students or family members who may have been affected and to connect with deans and professors on behalf of students in crisis.
The CUPD serves as the primary point of contact for the CCMT, but the Ithaca Fire and Police Departments and on-campus resources like Gannett and CAPS can also alert the team if necessary.
“Students are provided support at whatever level best serves them, with the goal of keeping them on their desired track as much as possible,” Zoner said. “They are advocates for the student in a world where it is tough to navigate even one aspect of one’s life, much less having to deal with external stressors.”
The crisis managers remain with a case until it is resolved, even weeks or semesters after it has happened and have a blank check when it comes to providing adequate support.
“The blessing from top layers of the University gives us the support to do the right thing and not worry about the money,” Tanni Hall, associate dean of students, who coordinates the team, said.
The crisis management system was established in response to the need for a University-wide coordinated response to student crises. Originally, only assistant deans in the Office of the Dean of Students were responsible for crisis management, but starting in 1991, staff from other campus offices overseeing large groups of students, such as Campus Life, Cornell United Religious Organization and International Students and Scholars were included.
Other universities have adopted crisis management systems that allow crisis managers to attend conferences and compare experiences and guidelines.
“I happen to think we have a state of the art [system], and I really do think that the way we do this here is very well developed,” Hall said. “I’m really proud of ours from what I can tell, especially at a place as large as Cornell where things are so decentralized and it is so multi-faceted.”
Although they may go unnoticed by most Cornell students, crisis managers make a big impact on the lives of students in need.
“I’m really grateful to the Crisis center,” Oller said. “If anything goes wrong in your personal life, know that Cornell is there, and they’re so helpful. I was completely surprised that they really put together a safety net for me. I’d say definitely use Cornell, or call them and let them know if anything is happening, and don’t expect that they won’t help you … and remember your cell phone and wallet and shoes.”