Today’s college students can recall at least one school shooting in their academic careers, and are likely the first generation to be able to do so. Gen Z is the first generation who practically grew up knowing how to react in the instance of a lockdown — drill or real. Unfortunately, we have to face the harsh reality: no matter the precautions, no school is 100% in the clear.
Chesni Birgy, a junior criminal justice major at Michigan State University, was in the MSU Union building on Feb. 13, 2023, when a gunman entered the East Lansing campus.
“We heard the first shot, but didn’t really think anything of it,” said Birgy. “The second shot, still nothing, and then the third. We knew what it was and sprinted out of the building.”
Birgy ran to the nearby Panda Express and hid in the bathroom for safety.
“It felt really long being in there,” said Birgy. “Like, I didn’t know if it would be OK to come out.”
MSU sophomore Mariana Aubele was in her dorm at Snyder-Phillips Hall when a friend call asking if she was okay.
“My roommate and I put our dresser up against the door, hid in our closet and just listened to the police radio until it was over,” Aubele said.
When it was over, the shooting, which occurred in two campus buildings, left three students dead and five others wounded. The shooter then shot and killed himself, police said.
In the United States, any mention of school shootings conjures up high-profile mass shootings at public K-12 institutions — Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland and Uvalde among others. As of mid-October 2023, there had been 288 school shootings with 209 victims, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database.
But college co-eds like Birgy and Aubele have first-hand proof that K-12 schools hold no monopoly on gun violence.
“Personally, I never thought that this kind of thing could happen so close to me,” said Birgy. “But now, it’s like, it can happen anywhere, so you always just have to be prepared.”
However, in 2023, “anywhere” has included not only the Michigan State shooting. A campus shooting Aug. 28 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where a professor reportedly was killed by a Ph.D. student, and a homecoming week shooting at Morgan State’s Baltimore campus that left five people injured on Oct. 3 made national headlines and sent shockwaves around the country.
The campus shootings this year have created a sense of fear some University of Miami students say.
“I think if a shooting happened on campus, it would be absolute chaos,” said UM junior marketing major Alyssa Mirenda.
She echoed what other students say about the university’s open campus policy.
“I often think about the fact that really anyone can wander in here,” said Rachel Lipsky, a UM junior neuroscience major.
When BestColleges, a platform that helps high school students research colleges, surveyed college students in 2022 about campus safety, 65% of students said school shootings in particular made them concerned for their safety on campus.
The earliest recorded U.S. university shooting happened in 1966 at the University of Texas at Austin where a shooter killed 15 people and injured 31 others from a tower on UT’s campus.
The Violence Project, a nonprofit that aims to reduce violence through comprehensive research, estimates that there have been 12 mass shootings on university grounds since 1966. A mass shooting is defined as a minimum of four people being wounded or killed by gun violence, per the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit organization that archives gun violence data from law enforcement, media and government resources.
Beyond mass shootings, there have been 308 incidents of gunfire on university campuses from 2013–2022 that claimed a total of 94 lives, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization advocating for gun control.
In a prepared statement to Distraction, the University of Miami Police Department said it is important that students and the community at large be aware that most mass shootings occur in open spaces and places of commerce, but universities are not exempt.
“Shooting in educational settings, while not as common as open spaces, do happen,” said the UMPD statement. “This underscores the need to report suspicious activity and behavior. Take advantage of training offered by your school.”
The department said the university is prepared to respond to a shooting on campus.
“Our officers are well equipped and trained to respond to incidents on campus,” added the UMPD statement. “We work very closely with the Coral Gables Police Department to coordinate and increase our response resources on campus.”
Lipsky said she expects the university to send out emergency alerts as soon as police are notified of an incident.
“It’s crucial; they can save your life with a text,” Lipsky said.
The university’s Office of Emergency Management is responsible for preparing and responding to any emergency that impacts the university, including mitigating the impact of an active shooter. The office conducts reviews of local, national and international armed intruder and mass violent events and analyzes after-action reports, said Matthew Shpiner, director of emergency management at UM.
All community members are automatically added to the university’s Emergency Notification Network, which allows the department to quickly notify students, faculty and staff of emergencies via their mobile device.
Shpiner said his office has conducted more than 450 active shooter response training courses in the past decade. Courses are open to all community members and are offered via Zoom at least twice a month.
“These courses include strategies and tactics you can use anywhere on campus,” Shpiner said.
Additionally, UM’s emergency preparedness department outlines steps members of the campus community can take before, during and after an emergency on its website page.
But some students, like Lipsky, said they are not aware of emergency plans in place at UM.
“I have never even heard of any emergency plans from the university,” said Lipsky.
The office said students are responsible for attending the training as it is not required by the university. The schedule for the remaining sessions can be found on www.events.miami.edu/oem.
While UM has not had any mass shootings in its nearly 100-year history, there have been cases of isolated violence.
In 1996, Hurricanes linebacker Marlin Barnes and friend Timwanika Lumpkins were beaten and shot to death in his on-campus apartment with a shotgun. Labrant Dennis, Lumpkins’ ex-boyfriend, was convicted in 1999, according to news reports.
In November 2009, UM police officials said the four suspects, two men and two women, drove through the area of the Hecht-Stanford Dining Hall and Wellness Center firing multiple shots from a BB-gun. Students, faculty and others were forced to remain indoors for nearly an hour until police apprehended the suspects and lifted the lockdown.
Besides actual violence, there have been cases of serious threats at UM, including a 2022 incident in which a former UM student sent an email detailing plans to commit a mass shooting at UM and at a local middle school. The threats were sent to CanesWear, a store in Broward County that sells Miami Hurricanes gear. The suspect, Kenny Espaillat, was arrested and later taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital for a mental health evaluation and treatment according to police.
While students at UM have not experienced gun violence in recent years, the fear of falling victim to one is still prevalent.
“I do not feel like UMPD has enough police cars,” said senior interactive media major Andaiye Gibson. “I feel unsafe on the patio, the bridge, and pretty much anywhere open.”
Other students say they are confident that UMPD could handle an active shooter incident on campus.
“There are enough police cars here,” said graduate data science major Yemi Adekoluejo. “I think we will be all right.”
Despite confidence in protocol, Adekoluejo said his personal response would be to get away from a crime scene.
“At the end of the day, I still just know to run,” he said.
Freshman finance major Vin Lin agrees, saying that “I feel safe on campus, I mean the area itself is safe.”
Despite the scare she encountered last year at Michigan State, Mariana Aubele completed her freshman year and returned to campus this semester.
Aubele said she was not scared to return but was thankful that Michigan State canceled classes for a week so that she could return home to her family in Pennsylvania.
“My family wasn’t really scared for me to go back,” said Aubele. “They just stressed to me not to go out at night really and always be looking out for what’s going on around me, because … you never know.”
As the U.S. government continues to neglect creating and enforcing stricter gun ownership and use laws, students across the country are forced to take charge of their personal security on- and off-campus. So, stay aware, stay informed and most importantly, don’t think a school shooting couldn’t impact you or the ’Canes community at-large.
Q&A With UMPD
What are the UM protocols for UMPD to follow in the event of a school shooting?
UMPD officers are trained and will immediately respond to a shooting threat. Partnering with the Office of Emergency Management, the university will activate the Emergency Notification Network, ENN. We incorporate additional resources from the Coral Gables Police Department and utilize countywide resources through mutual aid.
The Coral Gables Campus is an open campus. How do you respond to people who say the university is vulnerable to a shooting because of the ease of access?
Safety and security are a top priority on all University of Miami campuses. Creating a safe environment is not due to any single factor, but instead is a combination of multiple layers of infrastructure, personnel and policies which work together to support the safety of our community. We strongly encourage students and faculty to take an active role in our collective safety by immediately reporting any suspicious or unusual activity.
What would you say to students who are fearful of being in a campus shooting? What can they do to protect themselves or others?
Be aware of your surroundings and always report suspicious activity. Look around for emergency exits in large, crowded and frequently visited areas. Additionally, participate in active shooter response training and encourage your peers to do the same.
words_gigi rettew, melanie lowe & liam brandt. illustration_rachel farinas. design_lizzie kristal.
This article was published in Distraction’s Winter 2023 print issue.
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