Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
WKU Public Radio is part of a new regional journalism collaborative known as the Ohio Valley ReSource. It's made up of public media stations across Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. The collaborative will focus on the changing economy in the region and its effect on jobs, healthcare and infrastructure. Each station taking part in the Ohio Valley ReSource is hiring a reporter to contribute to the effort. WKU Public Radio's reporter is Alana Watson, who will be based in the Bowling Green newsroom. The Ohio Valley ReSource is made possible by member stations and through a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting.

Stopping School Shootings: Researcher Says Compassionate Culture Can Help

Nicole Erwin

In the wake of school shootings in Kentucky and Florida, a rash of copycat school threats throughout the Ohio Valley left law enforcement and school officials grappling with how to improve security. A school counseling expert says it’s useful to look at the potential school shootings that did not happen. His research focuses on how schools have successfully averted shooting incidents.

Culture of Dignity

Dr. Jeff Daniels, Chair of West Virginia University’s counseling department, interviewed school personnel and law enforcement officers who were able to prevent imminent school shootings.

“In schools where there had been a shooting, 81 percent of those schools, the shooter had informed somebody in advance about what he intended to do," Daniels said. "But the code of silence was that in almost all of those situations nobody came forward and told anybody.”

Credit West Virginia University, Brian Persinger
Dr. Jeff Daniels, Chair of West Virginia University’s counseling department.

Daniels said schools that were able to stop shootings all worked diligently to cultivate what he calls “a culture of dignity and respect.”

One school that averted a shooting really stood out, he said. The school had a history of violence but after years of work had become one of the safest schools in its city. Daniels recalled one incident with a troubled student that spoke volumes about how the school had achieved its turnaround.

“The week before I came the student got in another fight and the school resource officer, out of frustration, said, ‘What do you want, me to come and give you a hug every day?’" Daniels said. "Here’s this tough girl, a teenager, and she burst into tears and she said, 'Yes.' So the school resource officer was late to my interview because she had to go find this girl and give her a hug.”

Daniels said building a more compassionate culture in schools does not require a lot of resources. But it does take a lot of commitment from faculty and staff to systematically be more invested in informal student engagement.

“And when you do that you can start to understand every student’s baseline behavior," he said. "When you start to see a change in that behavior, that’s when you can step in and put your arm around them and find out what’s going on.”

No Simple Solutions

Daniels said through his research he’s noticed a tendency throughout society to try to find simple solutions to systemic problems like school shootings. For example, he says,  schools spent millions on anti-bullying programs after the Columbine shooting, but to little effect.

“Right now, the simple answer is gun control," he said. "We don’t have the data on this within this country to know if gun control laws would have prevented some of these shootings.”

Daniels said it’s hard to gauge effectiveness of laws because many are poorly enforced. New gun control laws face significant political obstacles. He hopes to continue researching mass shooting aversion techniques.

Related Content