In the wake of the shooting at Umpqua Community College, media coverage has sensationalized the deaths of nine students and a professor into a defamation of the mentally ill, unfairly portraying an entire group of people to avoid the intersecting issues of gun control, political dysfunction and racism. It is time for policymakers, health professionals and university administrators alike to work toward increasing emergency preparedness.
Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, there have been 142 school shootings. In 2015 alone, there have been 17 shootings on college campuses. It has proven to be a common issue, and yet, the fact remains that the campus shooting protocol is something that still needs to be taught and practiced in the form of mandatory courses and drills.
Campus shootings have not received the recognition necessary from the administration to demand action in the form of a mandatory emergency preparedness course or lockdown drills. Though there are mass shooting preparedness plans in place through the Department of Public Safety, in the event of a mass shooting, these plans are not widely publicized to the student body. Preemptive education has the potential to improve more than physical safety, but mental and emotional safety as well.
In high school and elementary school, students are prepared for campus shootings through lockdown drills, but in college, this mentality of preparedness disappears. This should not be the case. Shootings happen too often in elementary schools, high schools and colleges. It’s time we started treating it as such at this University.
An emergency preparedness drill for school shootings would provide an appropriate opportunity to address this issue as well as work toward prevention. By implementing such a measure, the University could help prepare students for a potentially life-threatening scenario while simultaneously spreading awareness about the real causes of gun violence.
But even if this exercise were to be implemented, emergency preparedness is still a student responsibility. Both the USC and DPS websites have information regarding campus safety and emergency preparedness, and there are several measures in place — Trojan Alerts, blue light phones, campus security and the USC Trojan Mobile Safety app, to name a few — to minimize the impact of a campus emergency. Students, however, are often unaware of these resources or don’t utilize them effectively. Only 30 percent of students are signed up for Trojan Alerts, and many have not looked into other services provided by the administration. Though implementing such a drill would be in everybody’s best interest, it can only be effective if students take it seriously.
In preparing for a potential campus shooting, both the University administration and students must be careful not to wrongfully blame mental health issues and instead focus on practical measures. The goal of USC at this time is to destigmatize mental health issues, but it also needs to responsibly deconstruct the myths that relegate the individuals actually dealing with these issues every day. Oftentimes, shootings are minimized and used as a tool to demonize mental illness. These disaster preparedness programs need to actively work against this stereotype while also preparing students for the event of a shooting. It is important to open up a dialogue and teach students to think critically about shootings. It is important to not just teach emergency procedure, but also open up critical dialogue about what leads to these incidents. Students need to be wary of pulling the mental health card when it comes to gun violence on college campuses as it has triggering implications in and of itself — considering that those with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators.
It’s time the University takes the burden of learning safety protocol for campus shootings off of the students and takes responsibility for educating its students. Opening up a dialogue around an issue as common as campus shootings is the best way to impact positive change. Campus shootings don’t have to be the norm, and it is the University’s responsibility to create a new normal.
Daily Trojan Fall 2015 Editorial Board