Campus Safety responds to classroom incident that highlights need for mental health services

Outside the room where the campus safety incident occurred. Photo by Grant Pauli.

The first few weeks of college are nerve-wracking for any student, no matter their age or walk of life. COVID-19 certainly hasn’t helped, forcing colleges everywhere to move strictly online for over a year.

Enter: Fall term of 2022. With a mixture of excitement and anxiety, students headed back to CCC. For one classroom, that first week back came with quite a scare. I know the fear that was going through the classroom personally, because I was there that day.

It was Sept. 29, 2022, the first Thursday of fall term, and students in Daria Matza’s Hybrid Digital Video Editing class gathered in the Pauling building for their first on-campus class. 

Everything seemed to be going fairly smoothly until a conflict arose. A student, seemingly frustrated with Matza, began raising his voice. He needed help with an assignment for the day. He walked up to Matza and asked for help. Matza, who was helping another student at the time, asked him to wait a moment.

Discontented proclamations from the student were met with calm, balanced responses from Matza, yet the conversation continued to grow more heated. The student, apparently not satisfied with Matza’s affirmative responses, continued to raise his voice – at one point even calling names and rotating expletives. The student soon began making the whole classroom uncomfortable. 

Eventually, the encounter turned into an incident involving locked doors, a class evacuation, campus security and an impromptu online class the following Thursday.

What started with a tense encounter soon became a more cryptic interaction, leaving a mark on many students in the class – one that could bring up questions, fears and concerns regarding the safety of returning to our college campus.

Tom Sonoff has since retired, but he was head of campus security at the time of the incident. He acknowledged it was an eventful day for Campus Safety as well.

“One of our college safety officers happened to be taking the same class,” Sonoff said. “So she got on her cell phone and called us and said ‘Hey, there’s a disturbance inside the classroom here with a student.’ I believe she said the student had already exited the classroom.”

This was true; the student had exited the classroom. He was banging on the locked door and jerking the handle up and down. Even with the doors locked, a couple of students in the classroom, including the college safety officer, who respectfully declined to comment on the situation, had to hold the door closed. 

This didn’t go on for long, though, because by the time Campus Safety arrived, the student was standing outside, away from the door.

Both Sonoff and Pete Kandratieff, the college safety manager, responded to the security call. As they approached the student causing the disturbance, Kandratieff recognized him. According to Sonoff, this student had taken what Sonoff describes as a specialized class, though he was unsure what term or exactly what class.

“He knew who the student was, which really benefited our response to that,” Sonoff said, “because as soon as the student saw Pete, they recognized each other, so there’s that personal connection there, which brought the student way down, as far as being upset.” 

Kandratieff talked to him briefly outside of the classroom while Sonoff got a basic understanding of the student’s problem. After talking with the student, both Sonoff and Kandratieff decided it would be best to walk him over to the Wacheno Welcome Center and bring him to one of the counselors to further help with his frustration.

When asked whether this sort of situation was a rare occurrence, Sonoff was quick to assure that it was. 

“It’s pretty rare to have that level of concern inside of a classroom,” he said. “It’s pretty rare here. We’re fortunate on all three of our campuses. Our crime level is pretty low on all three of our campuses, which is great.”

Sonoff emphasized that this response method is unique to this situation, and not necessarily how each campus threat is handled. If the student were violent or combative, the approach would be different, as would the method and type of response.

Once everyone left and the situation calmed, Matza messaged her students, allowing us to decide how to proceed with future classes. While we pondered this, we had class that week over Zoom. Eventually, we decided to come back to campus on Thursdays and keep the doors locked for the rest of the term. 

Seeing the way Matza handled the situation, I wanted to sit down with her and give her a chance to tell her side of the story.

“I think that students are coming to campus with more mental health issues than I’ve ever seen in my 20 years of teaching,” she said, “and I think it’s challenging because I’m a very connected teacher, and I want to know what’s going on in my students’ lives. But you don’t really know that. You don’t know that from people until you get to know them.” 

Matza acknowledged the efforts the school is trying to take to help with these challenges.

“I think the school’s starting to do some of that, and there’s work to be done there, too,” she said. “And I’ve been trained in my other jobs, but I don’t know. I think it’s just so much about who you are and how you deal with those situations.”

Through Matza’s anxiety during the incident, it was clear that her main concern was keeping her students – including the one who was struggling – safe. She also described how, when she reads about school shootings, it does make her question her career, especially with certain factors (including the lingering COVID-19 pandemic and enrollment issues across higher education) that make it harder to be in a classroom at all.

As a student in that class who returned to school for the first time in almost eight years after many health problems and traumas, this was not an easy way for me to begin the school year. However, if this incident taught me anything, it’s that I’m not the only one struggling in this world. Things like anxiety, depression, trauma and many other emotional or psychological struggles are much more common than people think.

According to the American Psychological Association’s website, “By nearly every metric, student mental health is worsening. During the 2020-2021 school year, nearly 60% of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem, according to the ‘Healthy Minds Study’, which collects data from 373 campuses nationwide.”

There are many resources at Clackamas Community College available to students, as well as many resources available to the community, whether or not you’re a student. Below are several resources, both inside and outside of CCC. If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out. You are valued, and you are certainly not alone.


Community Resource List:

CCC Counseling Department: 503-594-3176

Clackamas County Crisis Line: 503-655-8585 or 1-888-414-1553 (24/7/365)

Multnomah County Crisis Line: 503-988-4888 (24/7/365)

NAMI: 503-230-8009, 800-343-6264 (M-F 9 a.m.-5 p.m.)

National Suicide Prevention: 1-800-273-8255

Suicide & Crisis Line (call, text, or chat): 988

Oregon Warm Line: 1-800-698-2392

Kaiser Emergency MH Line: 503-331-6425, 1-866-435-3932

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Michaella Fithian