Campus Catharsis

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After a 23-year-old student gunman left 33 people dead at Virginia Tech University, President James Votruba announced that Northern Kentucky University would observe a moment of silence and hold a memorial for the victims.

“As a caring community, NKU wanted to provide a communal event to reflect on the senseless acts of violence and the fragileness of life, and to express our individual and collective grief,” Vice President of Student Affairs Mark Shanley said.

More than 250 students, faculty, and staff attended the memorial ceremony held at the outdoor amphitheater overlooking Loch Norse at 2 p.m. April 17. Shanley, who organized the event, said he was proud of the turnout, especially when students had only three hours notice via e-mail.

“In a senseless act of violence, Virginia Tech University suffered the greatest loss of life in the history of American colleges and universities,” Votruba said. “It reminds me once again that life is precious and that we must care for those around us and support each other in times of need.”

The April 16 shooting, which has been decreed as the deadliest shooting rampage ever to occur at an educational institution, began in a residential dorm at 7:15 a.m. and then moved to a campus academic building two hours later, according to the Associated Press.

In wake of the tragedy, administrators are addressing the probability of such an event occurring at NKU. “If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen,” NKU Police Chief Harold Todd said.

“We’re proud of the fact that NKU is a safe campus, but no one is na’ve,” Votruba said. “There’s always going to be a lot of anxiety when this happens, even though it’s 500 miles away.”

Barbara Sween, director of Health, Counseling and Prevention, said that they have been helping students deal with the crisis on an individual basis. “Everyone has a different way of dealing with grief. Especially being geographically removed from the tragedy, these folks are feeling kind of isolated with their emotions,” she said.

This is a challenging time for students, according to Sween. End of semester finals, graduation, and the transition back home for the summer can all compound stress. “Throw on top of that a tragedy of this magnitude and it can create a lot of anxiety for students.”

The massacre has caused NKU University Housing administrators to rethink procedures for this type of crisis. “It’s absolutely horrific,” University Housing Director Matt Brown said. “We haven’t covered this before.”

Currently, each student dorm is supplied with a housing emergency guide that includes directions of what to do in the event of a civil disturbance or demonstration, earthquake, evacuation, utility outage, chemical or biological release, fire, psychological distress, medical emergency, a bomb threat and severe weather.

“We don’t have campus shooting on there,” Brown said. Now, he wants to include information in the guide, as well as add a section for residential assistants to be trained in dealing with campus shooting.

Brown has also organized a Campus Safety Forum from 8 to 9 p.m., April 19 in the Kentucky Hall Lobby for students to discuss feelings of the incident and receive emergency procedure information.

Unlike Virginia Tech, NKU does not have a campus wide outdoor announcement system. In the event of an emergency, a mass voicemail to all campus phones as well as a posting on the university’s Web site will be used to communicate with students and faculty. Brown said if the scene was secure, then residential assistants would go door to door to warn students.

“I think we’re going to have to develop a new community plan after this incident,” Brown said.

Brown also said neither a voicemail delivery system nor a Web site posting would be effective because many students don’t have campus phones and, like what occurred during Virginia Tech incident, campus Internet servers could be down due to high traffic.

Even before this incident, however, Todd said the UP has been working on ways to make campus safer. The department recently hired three more officers to patrol campus.

“Everyday we are trying to prevent crime from happening,” he said.

Todd also said it wouldn’t be difficult for someone to bring a gun onto campus because there are not metal detectors or random searches, and he doesn’t anticipate that changing anytime soon.

“It all falls back on community policing,” he said. “We need to continue creating closer ties between the campus community and the police department.”

Though UP does have an “active shooter” policy that most police departments in the country require as a part of officer training, Todd said the police response is situational and determined by information gathered at the scene.

Similar to the Virginia Tech incident, Todd said the entire campus would be informed if the officers believed a shooter had left the scene, but not left the university. “Not only to warn them and make the university aware, but to also gather information,” he said.

Todd offers this advice to students who are informed of an armed gunman loose on campus: At the dorms: don’t leave the room; lock the door; stay away from windows and call 911. On main campus: If outside, seek shelter in the nearest building; find a room that can be locked; don’t open the door for anyone except the police; don’t leave the room until instructed to do so by the police; call 911.

“Students need to accept responsibility for their own safety,” Todd said. “Help us to help them.”