CARE team aims to provide a safety net for students

Recently, former Portland State student Heath Avery was sentenced to nearly six years in prison for stabbing fellow student Andrew Richardson last August.

Recently, former Portland State student Heath Avery was sentenced to nearly six years in prison for stabbing fellow student Andrew Richardson last August. The incident has highlighted the need for a more aggressive approach to providing mental health services to students on campus.

At PSU, there’s already a collective charged with the task of dealing with students of concern.

Formed about three years ago as a suicide prevention work group under the direction of the Garret Smith Memorial Act, the Coordination Assessment Response Education (CARE) team has since expanded to include several campus agencies, according to Dean of Student Life Michele Toppe. 

Toppe said the team includes representatives from the Office of the Dean of Student Life, the Student Health and Counseling Center, the Campus Public Safety Office, Residence Life and the Women’s Resource Center.

Although Toppe cannot comment on Avery’s case, she said the CARE team seeks to educate the campus community to recognize the signs of distressed students by reaching out to their friends and classmates.

However, the CARE team can only help distressed students when someone with a concern contacts them, Toppe said.

When asked whether there’s anything more aggressive the university can do to target individuals who need help, Marcy Hunt-Morse, director of Counseling and Psychological Services at SHAC and member of the CARE team, said she considers providing education to students an aggressive approach for the university to take.

According to Hunt-Morris, when the CARE team receives a call about a student of concern, it first gathers information to determine whether or not action needs to be taken.

“Then we come together to determine how to connect this person with the right resource,” she said. “This may result in a courtesy call to a faculty member who’s working with that student, or to the student directly.” 

According to Toppe, the CARE team case manager is responsible for determining the appropriate action. However, this position has been vacant since August 2010.

Currently, if a student calls the CARE team they will be directed to a staff member in the Office of the Dean of Student Life. Toppe said that budget cuts have prevented the team from hiring a specialist to handle such cases.

In Avery’s case, police reports reveal that several people at PSU alerted CPSO at least three times with concerns about his behavior. According to the reports, Avery was described as being “off-putting” and “aggravated.”

Before coming to PSU, Avery had no criminal history. According to an article published in the Vanguard on Feb. 1, those that knew him in high school said he was a “typical student.”

However, after enrolling in PSU, Avery began to exhibit odd behavior. CPSO records show that he harassed staff members and students in his dormitory.

“I would just speak to my professors, [and] spent most of my time at bookstores or in my room, looking at the Internet, looking for somebody to talk to,” Avery told the Vanguard.

CPSO Chief Michael Soto said he is unable to comment on the case directly, thus it is unclear whether Avery was considered a student of concern and whether CPSO reached out to Avery to provide him with help. 

According to Soto, CPSO normally communicates with the CARE team if it determines there is a need to take action.

Toppe said that the university currently has no indicator of whether most students are aware about resources such as CPSO, SHAC and the CARE team.

She encouraged students to contact the CARE team at 503-725-4422 if they are concerned about another student. ?