Missing person contact policy clarified
Published: Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 08:10
Student Affairs Coordinator Leah Knobler on Sept. 21 addressed the university’s missing person contact policy in an email to all students as a way to ensure that students are aware of the policy.
The policy, which was adopted following the federal Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, allows students to register someone other than their designated emergency contact to be notified in the event they are reported to be missing, the email said.
While there is currently no automated process online for students to designate a separate missing person contact, students who would like to do so may email Knobler, who currently manages a manual database. Only Knobler and the Tufts University Police Department can access this information.
Tufts in the past has included the missing person notification policy as part of a more general policy email sent out at the beginning of each academic year. This year, a separate email was written for the first time as part of the administration’s efforts to facilitate increased communication with the student body, Knobler said.
“People weren’t necessarily paying a lot of attention,” Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman said. “It’s been in the student handbook for years. This is actually informing people more aggressively.”
Reitman said that the policy allows for an important distinction between a student’s designated emergency contact and a missing person contact, giving students another mechanism for providing authorities with someone to call.
At Tufts, a student’s permanent address is fed into the Student Information System (SIS) during the initial admissions process. Students may then go online to WebCenter or SIS to update their local address or designate an emergency contact. However, many students never fill out their emergency contact information, assuming their family will be contacted in case of emergency, according to Reitman.
“This is an unfair assumption because not all students have traditional family situations or relationships with their family,” Reitman said. “That’s partly what’s behind this missing person policy.”
The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 is a collection of higher education reforms pushed through by Congress and the United States Department of Education. Section 488 of the document requires any institution participating in a Title IV federal student financial aid program that maintains on-campus housing to adopt a missing student notification policy.
The policy was adopted at a time when adolescent abuse was on the rise, motivating Congress to standardize and speed up the process of locating missing persons, according to Reitman. This included putting out an all-alerts bulletin within 24 hours of a missing person report, informing other area police agencies and contacting whoever the student wanted to be informed.
This is the fourth year since Tufts has instated its missing person notification policy, according to Reitman.
Reitman said that he hopes the university will phase in a systemized process for assigning a missing person contact to all students.
Although the administration is seeking to make students more aware of the option, students like junior Jeremy Ho still feel that they will not use the service.
“If I were to designate a missing person contact, it would be my family anyway,” Ho said, pointing out that as an on-campus resident, he believes there is a lower risk that he will go missing. “But I think it’s good that students have the option, and they should use it if they think it’ll benefit them.”
Reitman clarified that Tufts has very rarely had missing persons.
“Usually it’s families who call us when they’re expecting students to come home during breaks, but they’ve made other plans,” he said.