Between the years of 2013 – 2015, there have been 76 school shootings on college and university campuses making up for 47% of all school shootings including K12 school systems. 12 shootings on higher ed campuses have taken place so far in 2017.
As an ESL professor of mainly foreign students in the US, I’ve always had a maternal instinct towards my students (kind of why I named this site “College Mamma”). I often see my students as strangers in a foreign culture who may lack the knowledge of the pitfalls and dangers lurking in the US society. As such, when I hear of school shootings in the news or threats in the area, I start to put in place certain protocols in my classroom that I’d like to address in this post. This all escalates with my own personal story (at the end of this post).
My Personal Protocol for Campus Shootings
- Expect things when it’s completely unexpected. Most incidents occur without any warning. Obviously, it is hard to constantly expect the worst. If everyone followed this advice, people are going to be pretty uptight all the time. So, just be really aware of your surroundings.
- Know the closest exit. Read the maps of the building carefully and know the best way to get out.
- Avoid crowded areas. Shooters often target crowded areas.
- Always know a safe place. If you are eating in the cafeteria or studying in the library, make sure there is a place you can hide in a hurry — in a place that you feel you will be protected.
- Take time to view protocol set in place by your college/ university. Colleges often already have put in place protocol for campus safety. Oftentimes, these are posted in the college’s student portal. Other times, you may see posters in the classroom or in hallways with information on what to do. Study these posters from time to time to refresh your memory on what to do. Also, study the building map of each building you use so that you can easily find the exit when needed.
If threatened by a Campus Shooting
- If you are in the classroom, do the following:
- Lock the door.
- Shut off the lights.
- Clear your desk. (Shove everything off your desk if you have to.
- Turn off the overhead projector if possible.
- Find an area to hide where you cannot be found. If you can barricade your classmates behind some desks or tables, do it.
- Get your cell phones out and call for help.
- Keep quiet and calm.
- If you are in an open area, locate the best place to take cover then call for help. Follow the golden rule of a mass school shooting: Run, Hide, Fight.
My Personal Story
I was teaching at a community college one semester when the local news began posting stories about active threats of school shootings being made to community colleges in our area. There was even a specific day mentioned in the threats. On the day of the threat, I found a mostly empty parking lot. A normally crowded walkway was bare as I made my way to the classroom trying to ignore the eerie feeling in the air.
I walked into the building on the cool October morning not really expecting any students to show up. However, all but one of my students were there, a pretty normal turnout. However, they seemed to have confusing looks on their faces. One student was peering through the blinds to see the outside.
“I thought today was a holiday,” he began. “Where are all of the students?”
I explained that the school sent out emails about the threats and recounted the threats to them. Feeling somewhat sick to my stomach, I told them, “Let’s keep the lights dim and work by the light of the front projector today.” Then I locked the door.
We began our lesson, and the tension in the room gradually dwindled into nothingness. About 15 minutes into the class, there was a knock at the door, and I could see through the small door window that the missing student had arrived.
“Why are the lights out?” she asked as I unlocked the door for her.
“I was just concerned about the recent threats. Don’t worry, have a seat,” I said turning the lights back on and walking back to the head of the classroom leaving the door unlocked but closed.
As I recounted the threat in a little more detail, I noticed that the students seemed to be at ease and were reviewing notes. We continued with the lesson. I collected an assignment.
Then there were cracks and shouting …
Suddenly, there were loud cracks and shouting from the hallway. It seemed to be coming from the adjacent classroom. I panicked and ran for the classroom door, shutting off the lights and locking the door again.
Run, Hide, Fight
“Get to the corner!” I demanded of the students through my breath. One student stood unsure.
I leaped up to the front of the room to close the front screen and pushed some things off the table in the way. Seeing one student still standing there unsure, I motioned again but more vigorously to move to the corner.
It was silent as I found some portable computer cupboards to barricade our group. The student who had been standing said, “Ma’am, what is it? Why are we hiding?”
“Didn’t you hear that?” I responded in a loud whisper.
“I heard it,” said another student.
“Shouldn’t we call for help?” said a third student.
“Ma’am you ran so fast,” said the first student.
Calling Campus Security
“Yes, call the campus security,” I said.
Together, we found their number and called. Strangely, our call went right through to dispatch whereas I was expecting it to be backed up with calls. We told them about the cracks we heard and the shouting. They said no one else has called but they would send someone up.
We waited. A couple students were praying. I had my eyes set on the students’ books that were left on their desks knowing that it could set off a shooter.
About five long, desperate minutes later there was a knock at the door. I slowly approached the door. Seeing two security guards waiting for us.
“Hi, is everything alright?” they asked us.
We told them what happened and what we did. They took our report and said that we did the right thing by shutting off the lights, locking the door, and staying out of sight.
After the guards left, we were still pretty shaken up. I pulled out a chair and started to walk through the class’ and my own emotions after realizing we would not be able to get back to the classwork. I told them that I was teaching at two other community colleges in the area and that my day was only beginning with them.
I returned home between classes with a bad taste in my mouth and feeling it was my fault that I sounded the false alarm.
As I was finishing up my lunch, I received a call from my next destination. “Don’t come in,” I was told by the department head. “We are in lockdown.”
“Oh my god,” I gasped as all the anxiety came rushing back from what I had just experienced in the morning. “What happened?”
“There is an active shooter, and no one is allowed to move until they have found him. The classes for the rest of the day are all canceled.”
I hung up the phone feeling heavy but somewhat reassured that I had acted appropriately in the morning to protect my students even though there was no real threat against us. (We never found out what the noise we heard was.)
After watching the news for a while, I found out later that no one was hurt and the suspect was apprehended. I headed to my evening course at yet another community college. From that class until the rest of the semester, I told each class that we would be locking the door at the start of class no matter what.
I’m happy that no one was hurt in my story that occurred in the middle of October 2015, but I realize that we sometimes think we are safer than we are. It helps to take precautions and prepare early before an event like this occurs. They rarely come with a warning. Remember: Run, Hide, Fight.
I recently posted about personal safety on campus. Read more here.
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