Success in the classroom is rarely just about hitting the books. Life happens in ways that can overwhelm people of all backgrounds. The University of Utah knows that challenges outside of academics impact more than grades; a person’s sense of safety can be at risk.
The Office of the Dean of Students (ODOS) is committed to supporting students in any way they need. Its most important tools are the Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT) and Student Support Case Management. BIT is a group of people from across campus who bring diverse expertise and resources to any issue reported.
BIT’s purpose is to engage the entire campus community in campus safety concerns. Anyone—staff, faculty and students—can report a concern to BIT. When you share information, either for yourself or for someone else, individuals representing various disciplines and offices across campus work together to address concerns, provide support and empower students to succeed.
“BIT is about being proactive and engaging individuals who are experiencing distress early on in interventions that may help them move forward,” said Jolene Des Roches, assistant dean of Students for Behavioral Intervention & Education and chair of BIT. “BIT and Student Support are here to look at all potential reasons as to why someone on campus is in distress, figure out if there is a root to what is causing the distress and determine next steps in how to positively reengage this person on campus, or make sure they’re safe.”
The BIT group meets once a week to share new reports and to follow up on ongoing cases, and may meet more frequently to discuss urgent issues. Des Roches facilitates the conversations to ensure all of the data regarding a situation is brought to table. Each case comes to BIT with many puzzle pieces. Student support case managers find and confirm the pieces so BIT can put them together to create a comprehensive picture of the entire situation.
“BIT seeks to centralize the collecting of concerning behaviors into a more complete view of a particular individual,” said Brian Burton, associate dean of Students and director of Student Conduct & Community Standards. “Once we understand what pieces of information exist, we can connect the dots to inform appropriate intervention strategies or actions.”
In mid-March, the ODOS hired Tevita Hola to join the student support case management staff as part of a recommendation to improve campus safety. Hola’s role is to serve campus community members as a whole, but he primarily focuses on student support. He feels the most important things for students to know are that they have rights, what their rights are and how to access support regarding their rights.
“It can be as minimal as sharing a policy that they don’t understand, then they're out the door. On the extreme end, it could be beyond a case manager’s role. If that happens, the case manager takes it to BIT,” said Hola. “BIT shares the responsibility and accountability that comes with elevated and critical cases. Their expertise and experience do not match any other. No other group on campus has as much professional expertise at the table at one time.”
A BIT of history
BITs began after the 2007 mass shooting on the Virginia Tech campus. The teams were a way for universities to proactively share relevant information and address behavioral issues that might put members of the campus community at risk. At the end of June 2019, the U hosted the National BIT Association’s Case Management & Intervention Certification Course.
“We’re fine-tuning our BIT policies to make sure we’re in line with the national best practices, and broadening the focus of BIT. Historically, BITs have mainly focused on students, but we’ve had a number of incidents on our campus in which the perpetrator is not part of our campus community,” said Burton. “Broadening the focus of BIT beyond just student concerns provides a more holistic perspective of our campus.”
Across the nation, BIT teams have been expanding their best practices to more accurately capture the issues that modern students are dealing with.
Meet Tevita Hola, BIT’s newest case manager
When Hola first read the student support case manager job description, he knew he was a perfect fit.
“From my short involvement with the BIT team, I feel that it is the best team effort that I have ever been a part of—and that includes my years playing collegiate sports,” said Hola.
While playing for BYU football in 2009, Hola began working in behavioral care at Heritage Schools in Provo, which helps K-12 students with behavioral issues in school. Hola was responsible for assisting at-risk students using the relationship therapy model, a philosophy based on the principles of kindness, acceptance, nurturing, boundaries, flexibility, accountability and physical and emotional safety.
“Heritage was a place that I felt I could make a difference. I felt connected with this work of support and care,” said Hola. During this time, he went back to BYU, where he applied his trainings and academic support to current student-athletes who were also facing distress and similar challenges.
He worked at Heritage for five years before accepting a position at Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) as an academic advisor specializing in at-risk and underrepresented populations at the college. Hola then moved into SLCC’s diversity office as the Asian & Pacific Islander coordinator, where he ran an all-male retaining program called Brother-to-Brother that helped students of color who lacked a sense of belonging on campus.
Hola was excited for the opportunity to join the U’s BIT team, where he could continue to serve students and enhance his skills within the ODOS.
When should you should report to BIT?
BIT aims to be proactive to help students address problems before they escalate into someone harming themselves or others.
“We ask our campus community to trust their gut. If you notice a change in someone’s behavior, health or well-being, it could be a big deal. If a student showed up for the first five weeks engaged in class, then drops off, that’s a concern. If a peer or colleague has noticeable changes in their interactions with others, let BIT know,” said Des Roches. “We want to create a culture of care and safety. Please talk to the person you have a concern about, ask them what’s going on. If you still have that gut reaction that doesn’t feel comfortable, reach out to us and we will help support them and engage them in conversation.”
Banner image: The Behavioral Intervention Team based in the Office of the Dean of Students. Allison Frost, a student support case manager, is not pictured. Credit: Dave Titensor, University of Utah