Book Reviews

Book by John Nicoletti, Sally Spencer-Thomas, Christopher Bollinger
Review by Craig M. McGill
Academic Advisor
Forensic Science/Biochemistry 
University of Nebraska-Lincoln


More than ever before, a constant barrage of news stories plague the United States media about the latest tragedy on a college campus. Why do these crimes continue to happen? And at such an alarming rate? Are colleges and universities equipped to handle such catastrophes? Or are they crippled by naïve notions of “well, that would never happen here...”

While some of these questions seem hypothetical with intangible solutions, Violence Goes to College (now in its second edition) by John Nicoletti, Sally Spencer-Thomas, and Christopher Bolinger, gives school administrators, faculty and staff a solid guide through the history of violence on campuses and strategies with an emphasis on prevention rather than reaction. The authors argue that the current level of knowledge about violence on college campuses is insufficient: “there are several reasons for our ignorance, some understandable, some inexcusable” (p. 22). The book is intended as “a complete guide for the professional in looking for real solutions, both immediate and long term, to reducing violence and keeping students, staff, and faculty safe as they learn, teach, and work” (ix). 

Positing itself as “the authorities guide to prevention and intervention”, Violence Goes to College conceives of violence as a virus that has many strains. The various strains of violence found on college campuses today include sexual assault, suicide, hate crimes, hazing, avenger violence, rioting, homicide, and—one of the more interesting topics—arson and bombing. Although no strain of violence is the same and no incidence of a single strain can be treated in exactly the same manner, it is helpful to understand what aspects are symptomatic of each type. 

The book is not without faults. It contains some spelling errors (e.g. “their” instead of “there”) and there are times when the update to the second edition has not been dealt with carefully. For exampl, chapter three alludes to a topic that will be explored in 14, but it is actually found in chapter 17. On a smaller scale, some sentences in the text have clearly missed an update for the new edition: “Heroin is a drug rarely used on college campuses, but one that has recently been making a comeback in the 1990s” (p. 40). Furthermore, the book sometimes gives a gratuitous number of examples to demonstrate an elementary point. Lastly, the authors make puzzling and convoluted statements such as: “While suicide is definitely a violent act, harm-to-self falls outside our definition of violence and thus, will also not be discussed here.” However, Chapter 12 is devoted to Suicide. Would it not have been easier and more accurate to state that suicide would be dealt with in a latter chapter?

But beyond these few critiques, the book is an extraordinary volume, and indeed and authoritative one. It is exceptional in its conceptual framework of violence as a virus and its thorough historical contextualization of violence on college campuses. In fact, the best feature of the book is the way in which the authors explore the different strains of violence through case-studies, which highlight aspects of the different strains of violence. These case-studies are then analyzed and applied to violence on a broader scale. 

Readers are sure to come away with a better understanding of violence on college campuses, and how powerful a preventative approach, rather than a reactive one, can be to combat this ever growing epidemic.


Violence Goes to College (2010). Book by John Nicoletti, Sally Spencer-Thomas, Christopher Bollinger. Review by Craig M. McGill. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas. 369 pp., $59.95 ISBN # 978-0-398-07909-3
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