Responding to active shooters on college campuses
On October 2, Josue Chavez, a SUNY Oneonta student, had already finished classes for the day and was inside of his dorm, attending to some busy work when he received a text message from the college. “University Police have received notification that a current student believed to be on campus is threatening to shoot members of the campus community,” it stated. “Please shelter in place.”
Although not knowing how real the situation was, Chavez found himself closing his windows and blinds in a rush so that he could hide in the safest corner of his dorm, a procedure that was taught to him and many other students since the beginning of middle school.
“I was lucky that I was in my dorm because I didn’t have to deal with the fear of being outside,” Chavez said.
According to Chavez, students and professors who were in class during the threat didn’t know what to do. Some professors did not take the threat seriously and continued to teach. Others who thought about locking the classrooms could not, given that some of the doors would not lock, while other professors had to look up the kind of procedure to follow due to not having the proper training or knowledge of what to do, while some decided to abandon their students.
As reported by the Oneonta Daily Star, after another text message was sent to students saying that it was safe to go outside, the emergency siren of the campus began to wail, causing more havoc and fear because some did not know what it meant. The university decided to use the siren as an all-clear message, but this was unclear throughout as it caused students to scream and panic.
“The way the college handled the situation was very poor,” Chavez said. “It was very traumatizing because a lot of people thought that they were going to die. It’s just very baffling how our university was so underprepared when it came to this situation.”
Since the incident and a petition with over 8,400 signatures started by a student, Chrystal Savage, there are pushes for active shooter drills to be taught to all of the faculty and staff on the SUNY Oneonta campus. The lack of a protocol from the professors and campus police angered many.
“We’re not the ones who need the drills,” Chavez said. “It’s the faculty that need the drills. We’ve been doing this since we started [primary] school. We don’t need this anymore, the faculty do. They’re the ones who are out of touch with reality. Maybe we’ll be more prepared when we’ve done some drills but still, we should’ve done that before this happened, not after.”
Since the Columbine shooting in 1999, primary schools across the nation were shocked into preparing for a duplicate event, and this became a recurring incident after Sandy Hook in 2012. This included scheduled lockdowns, where teachers usher students into the corner that is most out of sight of the windows or the door. Students are shushed to silence in the dark as faculty and staff act as the intruders in the hall trying to break into the classrooms. Now ninety-six percent of public schools conduct these lockdown drills, some of them enacting them once a month and others just a handful of times throughout the school year.
The drill has been repeated so much that it is engraved into our behavioral reaction, as proven by Chavez. Since faculty and staff have never experienced nor trained to protect students during an active shooter threat, they are left to be the most unprepared. This essentially outlines the differences between lockdown drills within primary schools and college campuses, although there have been a number of mass shootings at universities such as Virginia Tech.
With the ever-growing fear of an active shooter threat, will universities start to acknowledge that the possibility of these threats are growing? What will they do to improve their active shooter drills? What has to happen next so that we can effectively and proactively protect children and future generations from feeling unsafe in school?
Julia Batista is a second-year IMC major who wants justice for all and schools to be safe again. They can be reached a email@example.com.