Community Voices: College prep requires real life lessons

Preparing your high school student to live independently on a college campus can be as exciting as it is frightening, especially for the very protective parent or the nervous child.

No matter what, though, having a frank discussion with your kid about the challenges college life presents – including decisions about drugs, alcohol and sex - could be the best graduation gift a parent could give.

Last week our local high school presented “Leaving the Nest with Safety in Mind,” hosted by the Interact Club at Cambridge High School, the youth arm of the Milton-Windward Rotary Club. One Interact officer told me she hoped the discussion would help prevent students from becoming victims.

The first speaker was Dr. Josh Gunn, director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Kennesaw State University. He stressed that college counseling services help students “keep personal lives in order” so kids can focus on academics. He cited a national study reporting that 50 percent of students rated their mental health below average or poor, with one out of three admitting prolonged periods of anxiety and depression.

“The simple premise of mental health is that we all have it,” Gunn said. He advised families to understand available campus resources so students would know where to go to deal with college pressures. Trained staff welcome students, he said, and enjoy helping them have a better college experience.

Other speakers that night included two law enforcement officers – one from Kennesaw State University and one from the City of Milton – who went through basic safety measures. These included keeping electronics out of sight, utilizing new cell phone applications to call for help and staying in well-lit surroundings.

What the officers didn’t discuss – most likely because the issues are complex and controversial – involve sexual violence and gun violence. Parents should pay attention, however, because campus rules and state laws are rapidly changing.

For instance, just this week the Georgia Board of Regents approved a host of rules meant to bring more uniformity to adjudicating sexual violence and other conduct violations on campus. College officials hope it will protect the due process rights of the victim and the accused. Parents can search news stories and look up statistics for campus criminal assault to get a better picture of problem.

The right to bear arms on campus is another hot issue. A Georgia senate panel not only approved a measure this week allowing students to defend themselves with Tasers and stun guns (House Bill 792), but also a “campus carry” measure (House Bill 859), which would allow licensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons on campus (though not in student housing, fraternity houses or at athletic events).

These laws may receive a floor vote in the Senate before this column is published. If so, they could then become law later this month. Campuses across the country are also considering legislation, with some, like the University of Texas at Austin, recently allowing students to carry on campus. Already one dean and a professor have resigned over the issue.

Gun violence, sexual violence, mental health issues – college sounds like a scary place. With my own college freshman home now for spring break, I can honestly say that she’s never been happier. I’m hoping the many talks we had beforehand helped.