May 6, 2011 - Dewey Cornell, a forensic clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia and authority on youth violence and school safety, is co-editor of the just-released “Columbine a Decade Later: The Prevention of Homicidal Violence in Schools,” a collection of eight articles that addresses the nature and scope of school violence in the U.S. and abroad, reviews relevant research findings and identifies promising prevention strategies.
These articles constitute the May issue of the quarterly journal, New Directions for Youth Development. Cornell’s co-editor on the project was Herbert Scheithauer, professor of developmental psychology and clinical psychology at Freie Universität Berlin in Germany and director of the Berlin Leaking and NETWASS projects.
“Professor Scheithauer is leading a national project in Germany to prevent student homicide, and he drew upon my work in the United States as a model,” Cornell said. “Because there is considerable international interest in this problem, we were asked by Professor Gil Noam of Harvard University, editor-in-chief of New Directions for Youth Development, to edit a special issue of the journal that would bring together international experts on this problem.”
Cornell, a Curry School of Education professor, also directs the Virginia Youth Violence Project.
The April 20, 1999, shootings at Columbine High School near Denver involved two heavily armed seniors, who killed 13 people and wounded 21 others before killing themselves.
Many school attacks since then, as well as numerous threats of violence, have been linked to youth who expressed admiration for the students who committed the Columbine massacre, Cornell said. These later attacks by students have occurred in the U.S. and more than a dozen countries, including Argentina, Belgium, Bosnia, Brazil, Canada, China, Finland, Germany, India, Japan, Netherlands, Norway and Turkey.
“Understandably, there is international concern about school safety that has stimulated demand for new safety and security measures, as well as revisions to discipline policies and practices,” Cornell said. “This special issue identifies the emerging strategies for preventing homicidal attacks by students and provides information and insights from an international group of scholars and practitioners.”
The first of the eight articles documents the international scope of this problem and addresses some of the complex issues that make student homicidal violence difficult to define and study.
The second presents two case examples from Finland that illustrate the interplay between the distant, international influence of the Columbine shooting and the more immediate impact of local peer interactions.
The third explains the rationale for the Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines and describes how multidisciplinary, school-based teams use a decision tree to take a problem-solving approach to student threats. This model, developed by Cornell and used in thousands of U.S. schools and the majority of Virginia schools, has been shown to resolve student threats peacefully and reduce the use of long-term suspensions.
The fourth article describes a pair of prevention projects undertaken in response to a series of homicidal student attacks in German schools. These projects were derived in part from the Virginia model, but adapted for the administrative differences in German school systems.
The fifth describes the Swiss system of violence prevention through close cooperation of the judicial and mental health systems.
In the sixth article, a Virginia expert on the training of police officers to serve as school resource officers describes the challenges for officers and school administrators in working together and offers practical recommendations for the selection, training and supervision of school resource officers.
The Colorado Safe2Tell reporting system, established in the wake of the Columbine shooting, gives students an anonymous means of contacting authorities to request help for troubling situations. The seventh article describes how this system works.
When authorities begin to consider prevention efforts, there are often questions about the causal role of bullying, because so many of the cases involve youth who were victimized in some manner. There is also concern that these youth may have been encouraged to retaliate in a violent manner by their exposure to entertainment media violence. Similarly, there is apprehension that intense media attention to sensational cases might stimulate copycat crimes. The final article presents the thoughts and recommendations of a group of scholars with expertise in these substantive areas.
In addition, there is a summary of research on the frequent question of whether stricter laws or more punitive sanctions might deter youthful offenders.
“Together, more than a decade after Columbine, these eight articles provide some clear directions for future research and development of effective prevention strategies for student-perpetrated homicidal violence in schools,” Cornell said.