By ABBY HUNT
The Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, FL has many schools increasing security measures across the nation. From increasing frequency of lockdown drills to installing bulletproof shelters in classrooms, many are preparing for a horrifying modern reality.
The UMW Department of Public Safety responded to these events by sending out an email to all students on Feb. 22. The email acknowledged that many students, faculty, and staff had expressed concerns about how prepared the university, mostly administration, actually is in the event of an active shooter on campus. They certified that the UMW Department of Public Safety “strives to provide protection and preparedness”.
They also urged anyone with “acute” anxiety to visit our counseling services at the Talley Center. The rest of the email aims to make students feel prepared.This included two YouTube video scenarios depicting an active shooter, that were not required to be watched. The email also relays a “joint responsibility as a community” to pay closer attention to any potentially threatening or alarming behaviors demonstrated by our peers. The 650 word email stirred up a lot of conversation among UMW students due to the upsetting videos and the way the email was worded.
The University has a responsibility to protect its students from the very real threat of gun violence. The email was sent out by the UMW DPS with the intention of making students feel not only more comfortable with the school, but also to feel confident that in this situation, the students themselves would also do the right thing. However, many students probably did not even open the email, let alone watch the attached videos. It is this uncertainty that suggests that the majority of the school is unprepared for such a catastrophe such as this.
Considering that UMW is an open campus, we are subject to a number of different dangers, similar to any other public space such a mall or park. A middle aged couple strolling down campus walk could be concealing a cache of weapons and no one would ever know. This poses the most threat to those who live on campus. Although all residential buildings are only accessible with an active Eagle One card, it is not hard to gain entrance into any of the residential buildings by simply telling another student that they forgot their Eagle One.
I am a geography major, and almost all of my classes for the past three years have been held in Monroe, which seems to be a pretty safe building. Many of the doors that lock can only be locked by a key that only Faculty have. The computer labs and physical science labs have locks with key pads and are also accessible by Eagle One, but only if you are a GIS student.
Crystal Knapp, a senior art major, said she spends most of her time in in Melchers Hall. She suggested that different academic buildings can be safer than others. She said that all rooms in Melchers “should have keypad lock systems on them similar to rooms like sculpture or the digital lab have. That would make some students feel safer in an emergency situation. In addition I think the confusion of the art building would be non-beneficial to a shooter if they where to enter this specific building. I believe the University should have a set plan on what happens if a shooter enters any of the academic or residential buildings. They teach us drills like that in public school, but not in college. I think this is very important especially in the wake of the mass gun violence issues facing any and all public schools or universities nowadays.”
Junior psychology major, Kate Larkin noted that the computer labs have superior security.
“They lock down the computer labs for technological security reasons, not student safety reasons,” said Larkin. “I think it’s good that the University addressed the parkland shooting and what happened that day. However, they should have addressed it to its severity. In each academic building students should have some sort of safety plan. Even just spending three minutes in class talking about it, considering how often these shootings are happening now it’s something that could happen here and it’s scary. I live in the UMW apartments, and I have a friend that can easily spider-man crawl up to my third floor apartment balcony and surprise us. This concerns me because if someone was trying to hurt people they could easily get in. I never think to lock my back door three stories up.”
“As I was reading through the beginning of the email I felt as if this was a placating email, sent just because, in the wake of a very serious fatal shooting turned political altercation, what else is the university supposed to do?” said senior communications and digital studies major Alexis Ricks. “But as I continued through the somewhat lengthy email, I began to feel more comforted, specifically in the portion of the piece when they discuss the steps to take when faced with a crisis of this magnitude. The idea of preparation and its importance was obvious throughout the email which made me feel as if my campus is truly prepared, as they are helping me to be better prepared.”
“I spend most of my time in and outside of class in Combs,” said Ricks “If I was faced with a school shooter in this portion of campus I would fear for my safety because of the number of windows around the building, many of which are often left open. But I would feel more comfortable because many of the doors do lock, and because of Comb’s proximity to Brent House I do feel a sense of increased security. I think that if the university really wanted to make an impact on how we would react in a school shooting they would make a computer simulation a requirement, similar to the drinking education program everyone was forced to take.“
Senior international affairs major, Rachel Lynch disagreed though, saying, “Unfortunately, there is only so much a school can do to prevent against radical attacks. I don’t think putting all of our resources towards security would be the best idea. I can’t think of any realistic security measures that could help to fully equip every inch against an attack that could happen anywhere within the school’s linear mile radius, when a shooting takes place in a matter of seconds to minutes.”
The topic of gun violence is not fading, if anything it is intensifying. Families are talking to their school children, businesses are talking to their employees, and unfortunately schools are talking to their students. Most students said the email was at least reassuring.