College students were packing up or had already cleared out of the area on May 23, the end of finals week and evening of graduation for Santa Barbara City College.
Because of the exodus, many of them heard from afar news of the mass shooting and stabbing rampage that happened the same night in nearby Isla Vista, a community adjacent to UC Santa Barbara and heavily populated with college students.
SBCC students returning for fall classes next Monday will see what student leaders and college officials have been working on since — with a collaboration between UCSB and SBCC student leaders, amplified awareness of mental-health training and a regular recommitment to a student honor code among the efforts.
Officials would prefer SBCC students lived closer to the Santa Barbara campus, and not in Isla Vista, but cheaper rent and a fun, youth-filled atmosphere have made the community more attractive in recent years, SBCC President Lori Gaskin told Noozhawk.
The number of SBCC students actually residing in Isla Vista varies depending on who you ask. SBCC says about 1,200 of its total 20,000 students live in I.V., data based on students who self-report an I.V. address in their profiles.
UCSB officials noted that some estimates place the number closer to 5,000, a figure derived from 2010 U.S. Census data and not accounting for growth since then. The census shows 21,000 college students live in IV, and UCSB says its students in on-campus housing and IV make up 15,000 of that.
The Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District keeps track of SBCC student boardings on its bus lines running between IV, SBCC or downtown, but not where students boarded along the route or how many individuals the boardings represent. From July 2013 to June 2014, MTD recorded more than 101,000 student boardings for Line 11, nearly 263,000 for Line 15x and more than 66,000 for Line 24x.
While Gaskin thinks those numbers are a bit high, she conceded the SBCC student population was likely more than 1,200.
“We don’t think being 13 miles from campus is in the best interest of students, but we can’t stop it,” she said. “The density and the culture that has grown in the area is not one that we support.”
SBCC already offers crisis and alcohol and drug counseling — not a requirement for community colleges — and regularly assesses student attitudes and behavior via a survey.
The college also provides training to help staff and students identify peers who might be stressed or otherwise mentally troubled, and a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) made up of college officials reviews any submittals to determine if counseling or disciplinary should be taken.
Stressed-out students can be contacted by the Office of Student Life for counseling, and disruptive, potentially dangerous cases could require sending welfare checks from Santa Barbara police or Isla Vista Foot Patrol, said Ben Partee, dean of educational programs.
PERT came out of another tragedy in 2001, he said, when David Attias, a UCSB student with an alleged history of mental illness, fatally struck an SBCC student and three others with his car as they walked on an Isla Vista street.
The incident has haunting parallels to May’s shooting and stabbing rampage, which was carried out by Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old former SBCC enrollee and IV resident who authorities described as “severely mentally disturbed.”
He was briefly enrolled in SBCC classes in 2011 — not as a full-time student — but he never completed a course, Gaskin said.
Since Gaskin came on as SBCC president in 2012, the college has extended its disciplinary jurisdiction, working with law enforcement outside campus borders to punish students violating college conduct codes off campus with similar warnings, parental notifications or even suspension, Partee said.
“I met with every single student that IV Foot Patrol alleged to have violated laws during Deltopia,” he said, noting some received sanctions. “We need to make our students responsible for their actions.”
New this fall is an honor code students must read and electronically sign before registering for classes.
Gaskin said she planned to send students a letter reiterating civic responsibility on campus and in the community.
“I’m trying to communicate with students that it’s a privilege to attend SBCC,” Gaskin said. “The best minds in this community are thinking about this and trying to figure this out. It’s going to take our collective, collaborative thinking over the long term. I’m not one for band-aids.”
They also plan to attend the next Isla Vista town hall meeting and to launch a “Keep it safe, keep it local” campaign leading up to Halloween, another alcohol-fueled IV event.
“We are part of the community here, and we need to respect it,” said Nicholas Steil, an SBCC Student Senate member and student trustee. “The responsibility is lacking, but I believe it’s in part due to the lack of community. The students out there at this time feel like it’s them against the police.”
Steil wants to bring back “coffee with senators” events on or near campus so students can share concerns and ideas with student leaders. A poll for SBCC’s student population in Isla Vista is also in the works.
“It’s sad what happened,” he said. “I see it as a mental health issue and lack of support services. We need to look at these kinds of events and see what we can do as a student body for our students. Hopefully we can move forward from this and do some good.”