Real-World Scenarios for Campus Leaders

by Henry Wu

During this period of polarization in our national life, college and university leaders’ decisions are pivotal. National unrest can quickly manifest into unrest on college and university campuses. But new challenges come with new opportunities. Campus conflicts provide teachable moments — university leaders can encourage students to engage in the issues of the day and learn to advocate, negotiate, facilitate, and understand each other. Preparation is vital to making wise choices in the immediate aftermath of a divisive incident or conflict.

We believe that it can be helpful for college and university leaders to learn from examples at other institutions. Wayne Maines, Vice President, Safety and Operations, Austin Community College, explained that he uses examples of campus conflict or crisis from another institution to engage everyone in the regular cabinet meeting in a 10-minute “what if” scenario where they are asked to talk about how they would respond if confronted with similar facts. The practice of regularly talking about how they would respond has helped clarify roles, identify areas of need, and improve crisis preparedness.

As part of the Divided Community Project’s Virtual Toolkit, we have created several short hypothetical fact patterns about divisive incidents on college and university campuses. These examples discuss a range of important issues. For example, how should university administrators respond to student protests against racial injustice? What role, if any, should campus police play when there is student unrest? What policies should schools consider to ensure student safety/well-being and to protect free speech on campus? These are only some of the questions that are worth discussing. We encourage campus leaders to carefully think through each example, talk through the steps that one would take, consider relevant questions, and develop actionable plans.

The fact patterns are available here.