UConn administration addresses gun violence on college campuses

Former Roseburg High School math teacher Josh Carlton wipes away tears as Taylor Moore recounts a memory from her time as classmate of Quinn Cooper during a memorial for Cooper at Roseburg Christian Fellowship church in Roseburg, Ore., on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015. Cooper was killed when a gunman opened fire at Umpqua Community College before turning the gun on himself after a shootout with police. (Michael Sullivan/The News-Review via AP)

Students and administrators came together on Wednesday to discuss campus safety in the wake of the 47 school shootings that have happened this year, including one earlier Wednesday morning in Tennessee.

“What would happen if somebody showed up to my classroom with their weapon and wanted to kill people?” UConn president Susan Herbst said. “Are we ready as a class? Should the professor, at the beginning of every semester, talk about this, or is this an off way to start?”

Herbst claimed the recent school shootings should not cause us to walk around in fear, as the probability of one happening is pretty low.

While the probability may be low on a college campus, the FBI has reported 160 active shooter cases between 2000 and 2013 located in public places.  In 2015 alone, there have been 47 shootings on school grounds, with one occurring just outside the Tennessee State University campus just past midnight on Wednesday, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

On UConn’s campus, resources are being allocated to make improvements from past mistakes at other college campuses.

“When we hear about something horrible that happened, we take that opportunity to learn and see what we are doing and what we need to change in our own environment,” O’Connor said. “On the day of the shooting at Virginia Tech, how many folks going into class that morning saw him putting chains on the exterior of the doors? Post Virginia Tech, all colleges have removed those kinds of doors from their campuses.”

The shooting at Virginia Tech happened on April 16, 2007, resulting in 33 deaths and 17 more wounded. This is the deadliest shooting in US history, followed by the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that took the lives of 26 people on December 14, 2012.

The lack of access to mental health care for those who committed the mass shootings was highly debated amongst the national media. Organizations such as the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, founded in the wake of Sandy Hook Elementary, found that this lack of access to proper mental health care and easy access to guns often are the reasons why mass shootings can occur.

Cox stressed the importance of their efforts in outreach completed with students on campus to care for their mental health. They provide Question Persuade Refer (QPR) training to FYE classes and ResLife staff members as a method in suicide prevention. Alongside their 24-hour help hotline, CMHS also offers students professional counseling individually or within a group setting.

“We want to emphasize community,” Cox said. “We are always going around talking about how connection is prevention. We coach staff how to support so we can feel engaged and connected and know when someone or something is off with others.”

Both Cox and O’Connor expressed the importance of addressing concerns early on to prevent dangerous outcomes and provide the best possible care for those who may raise some concern.

“If you see something, say something,” O’Connor said.

Undergraduate Student Government (USG) President Rachel Conboy mentioned that concerns over active shooters on campus were brought up during USG meetings and expressed her gratitude over trainings held through the police department for student workers.

“I felt very thoroughly prepared after completing the police training, ” Conboy said. “I think there is a very well prepared staff.”

Students from Dr. Jennifer Lease Butts first year experience course were also in attendance at the discussion.

“I guess that it makes me feel better after knowing that we are protected and that the university is doing the best that they can to prevent these things from happening,” first-semester actuarial science major Matt Edson said. 

The university plans on holding more training sessions for staff and is urging students to be more cognizant of things that may seem suspicious around them.

“I was not really aware of these issues before coming to the discussion today,” first semester biology major Ritu Kumble said. “It is not something that you see every day you just kindof hear about them, actually discussing it made me feel safer.”


Elizabeth Charash is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at elizabeth.charash@uconn.edu.