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EDITORIAL: Gun violence on college campuses causes concern for student safety

Shooting at the University of Virginia sparks much needed conversation about student safety on college campuses

Rutgers must take more proactive measures to keep students safe from the threat of active shooters. – Photo by  Leigh Lustig

In the wake of the Parkland school shooting in 2018, there was a national surge of panic when it came to student safety at school. Parkland students bravely led the cause, urging the U.S. public and government to embrace the vital sentiment of "never again." But as we have seen, "never again" has not yet been achieved.

On Monday, there was another school shooting on the University of Virginia campus that left three students dead, D’Sean Perry, Lavel Davis Jr. and Devin Chandler, who were members of the UVA football team. Two more team members were injured, including UVA running back Mike Hollins and another unidentified victim.

This tragic event should spark a much-needed discussion about student safety on college campuses, especially at large state schools. After Parkland, many high schools implemented active shooter protocols. For example, a popular active shooting protocol for high schools was ALICE, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate. Many high schools also have mandatory drills throughout the year.

High school principals could use the PA system to communicate to students where the hypothetical shooter was, and from there, students would decide whether to lockdown or evacuate based on their proximity to the shooter. Given the lack of national gun safety legislation and the varying levels of state gun regulations, schools are often left to fend for themselves when it comes to protecting their students.

When the UVA shooting happened, students were alerted by a tweet from UVA Emergency Management that read, "UVA Alert: ACTIVE ATTACKER firearm reported in area of Culbreth Road. RUN HIDE FIGHT." Now, what does "RUN HIDE FIGHT" exactly mean? UVA has a nearly 6-minute video that explains RUN HIDE FIGHT, but essentially the website summarizes it as, "RUN to leave the area, HIDE if you can … and as a last resort, FIGHT."

This type of slogan demonstrates how students are essentially left to fend for themselves in the presence of a firearm threat. This makes students feel defenseless at school, and more needs to be done across college campuses to make students feel safer if the worst were to happen.

Specifically, at Rutgers, there are a couple of security protocols and systems already in place. Rutgers crime alerts can be sent via email, text message or myRutgers Portal to alert students of any recent crimes taking place on campus or in the surrounding New Brunswick community.

All campuses are patrolled by Rutgers University Police Department officers. Additionally, students must swipe their student ID cards to enter their respective residence halls.

There is also a blue light emergency telephone box system on all campuses, which is emphasized on tours to prospective students. But, once on campus, the blue light system seems to be a mystery.

In the 2022 Safety Matters report, Rutgers acknowledges the existence of the blue light system and how to operate it, but the University does not go into detail about where they are, how many there are and whether they all work. These are important questions that the University must answer.

This lack of transparency and clarity about key safety systems is an issue. Rutgers students need to trust that Rutgers has their back. Rutgers needs to be clear about the current condition and efficiency of its safety systems. And more than this, Rutgers needs more safety protocols and systems specifically for an active shooter emergency.

The University should consider implementing a separate notification system for active shooter alerts that students are required to opt into before enrolling. This would be separate from Rutgers crime alerts. It is unclear how much active shooter training professors and resident assistants receive, but such training should be a priority. It is also essential that professors and resident assistants inform students at the beginning of the semester about any protocols related to active shooters.

Rutgers could also consider implementing a set of mandatory modules for Rutgers New Student Orientation. It would be about what students should do in the presence of an active shooter on campus. Even though Rutgers is a large state school and it can be difficult to effectively implement widespread safety measures, there must be a clear attempt to make students feel safer in the wake of recent shootings on university campuses.

Rutgers has resources, but the issue is whether the University properly communicates its existence to students. Moreover, Rutgers must remind students about the blue light system and reassure students that they work. One easy way to do this would be to send a mass email in which the University clarifies the resources available and what Rutgers is doing to keep us safe.

Ultimately, shootings are a national problem that requires federal legislation to adequately address. In the absence of such action, though, universities must take steps to protect students as best they can. Universities must be more transparent, they must have more drills and there must be universal protocols in case a shooting happens. These pose challenges to big universities, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 154th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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