As little as four years ago, the Rogers Student Center on the Tyler Junior College campus was a place many people didn’t want to go. It wasn’t because of the facility on the inside, but rather, the problems on the outside.
Campus officials said as many as 200 people congregated in front of the building at times.
TJC professor Dr. Lynn Gray said there was a lot of profanity and yelling on the part of people there. Catcalling was even a problem, according to other college officials.
The groups that were there made it difficult to access to the building, and it was just an unpleasant place to be.
“I actually had students tell me that they did not want to come on campus if they had to go over there,” Dr. Gray said. “So, we had a problem.”
Fast forward to the present, and it’s a different story, Dr. Gray said. The entry to the student center is clear most days other than pedestrian traffic.
New wrought-iron style fencing on ledges keeps people from sitting there. Nearby shrubs that once towered above people have been trimmed to four feet or less. And new metal tables and chairs installed around campus encourage people to gather without blocking sidewalks.
These changes, just examples among many, are the result of a concerted effort made by TJC President Dr. Mike Metke and his administration throughout the past four years.
It started with the creation of a civility task force and grew from there. Metke said the campus prided itself on being “the friendliest college in Texas,” but that had started to erode.
With a task force that met once a week, the administration actively began changing operations on campus to change the environment.
MAKING A CHANGE
The task force creation was just the beginning. Through that group and the effort of many others, the college launched a multi-faceted approach to address the on-campus environment and the safety of it.
This effort started with lanyards. The college required all students, faculty and staff to wear lanyards with identification cards on them. These cards provided not only photo ID, but information about whether students were enrolled for the current semester and lived on or off campus.
That simple tool allowed college officials to see who had a reason to be on campus and who didn’t. If someone lacked a lanyard, an official now had a reason to question them.
Others changes include a no smoking policy on campus and a dress code discouraging immodest attire and sagging pants.
“You’re coming to a great college,” Dr. Tom Johnson, TJC’s executive director of the campus police and director of the Law Enforcement Academy, said. “You need to look like that.”
Johnson also led an effort to change the campus’ appearance and atmosphere using a technique called crime prevention through environmental design.
This involved trimming the overgrown bushes, placing metal tables and chairs in different locations and installing wrought-iron fences on ledges to prevent students from sitting there.
The trimming of the bushes allows for better visibility for people and security cameras.
The new tables with connected chairs are on concrete pads to the side of sidewalks so people won’t block the flow of pedestrian traffic.
Some sidewalks were widened and security cameras were added around campus.
The college also added signs to light posts so people can easily identify parking lots in the event of an emergency.
As far as people go, there is a greater police presence on campus, meaning more people are watching what’s going on. The college no longer has security guards. Instead, 19 full-time police officers make up the TJC Police Department.
These officers patrol the campus on foot, on bicycles and in vehicles.
TJC Ambassadors also provide a supportive role on campus. Clad in gold vests, they volunteer to man an area of campus during the day.
Ambassadors, most of whom are retirees, are on campus in shifts from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
They help verify who is on campus, make sure everyone is wearing a lanyard with ID and give students temporary IDs when needed.
They also have radios so they can notify police officers if they need assistance.
The TJC Police Department added to its infrastructure by putting a police substation at Rogers Student Center in the spring. This is intended to make it more convenient for students to report on-campus incidents or get student IDs or parking IDs made. The department also added another building, so it has a new police headquarters. This building provides more space for officers to do paperwork and enter data on computers. There’s also a private area available to interview students, faculty or staff about on-campus incidents.
A conference room is available for meetings or training sessions and an evidence room provides storage and filing space for the officers.
SAFE AND CIVIL
Apart from infrastructure and accessories, the college has worked to make sure it is drawing good students to its campus.
Freshman Interest Groups allow students with similar interests to live in the same area of a dorm on campus.
Some examples include students who are in the Apache Band, Apache Belles or the newly formed Honors Program.
Starting next fall, all students who live on campus will have to have a 2.0 GPA and maintain 12 full-time student credit hours. The idea is to encourage serious students to live on campus.
Metke said he really is pleased with the changes. He said he gives a lot of credit to Johnson as well as Dr. Johnny Moore, the former vice president of student affairs.
TJC had prided itself on being “the friendliest college in Texas,” Metke said. But that had started to erode and the administration wasn’t happy with that.
Since implementing these changes, TJC Police Chief Randy Melton said the college has seen a decline in the number of calls for service, as well as a decline in the calls specifically about a disturbance.
Overall calls went from more than 1,700 in 2010 to less than 1,200 this year as of Dec. 9.
Calls specifically about a disturbance went from more than 100 in 2010 to just over 60 this year as of Dec. 9.
As far as more serious crimes, the college didn’t have very high numbers to begin with so it’s difficult to see much of a change.
From 2009 to September 2013, four forcible sex offenses occurred on campus, according to TJC statistics. No robberies, arsons or hate crimes were reported during that same period.
Four aggravated assaults were reported on campus during the period.
Burglaries did decline noticeably during that time from 11 in 2009 to four in 2011 and one this year through September 2013.
Motor vehicle thefts also are down from two and three in 2009 and 2010, respectively, to zero in 2012 and 2013.
Drug-related violations have fluctuated with a five-year high of eight in 2011, but five this year through late September.
On public property around the campus, the only major crime category that had any reported offenses in the past two years was drug-related violations with four as of late September this year and 13 last year.
Metke said the civility and safety initiative has been one of the major factors in transforming the college.
He said with the changes they have made on campus, the students and college officials are better able to concentrate on education because they aren’t worried about safety.
Johnson said they are no longer simply reactive, but proactive. And other colleges are looking to emulate what TJC has done.
“It’s been beyond our wildest expectations,” Johnson said of the changes, “because now this is safe, this is civil.”