As the student-led movement for stricter gun control gains momentum both across the country and on Columbia’s campus, Columbia administrators have remained largely disengaged from discussions surrounding gun violence.
In the months following the Parkland shooting in Florida on Feb. 14 that claimed the lives of 17 people, students have mobilized to lobby for stronger gun laws. Four Law School students helped organized the NYC March for Our Lives on March 24. Columbia University Students Against Gun Violence formed in early March. Columbia University Democrats are now planning a trip to Washington D.C. to lobby for reforms.
On Sunday night, Columbia College Student Council voted to send a letter to local New York City government representatives in support of improved gun control policy after Sam Hysa, a student from Parkland, wrote to CCSC asking whether Columbia students would be willing to participate in gun control advocacy.
However, little direct response has been made by the University. And despite active shooter training implemented during the New Student Orientation Program, students have voiced concerns that they are unclear how to act during a potential active shooter scenario.
Barnard College released a statement on March 5 saying that it is committed to “preparing for, responding to, and mitigating emergencies affecting our campus community,” referencing the Parkland shooting and other recent incidents. These efforts included offering optional active shooter safety training for students. Yet, no similar statement was made, nor were additional trainings offered, by Columbia administrators in the same time frame.
“The reality is that this is something that affects students every day,” said Nikki Bradford, BC ’19. “I think it’s too bad [administrators] haven’t said anything.”
In the wake of Parkland, awareness has grown over the looming threat of shootings at educational institutions. Anti-gun violence activists note that both the frequency and lethality of mass shootings have increased, with an average of 20 deaths per shooting. Further, since 1996, the US has seen 91 mass shootings.
“What Parkland taught us is that this really could happen anywhere,” Avalon Hoek Spaans, a Graduate School of Arts and Sciences student and an organizer for the group of Columbia and Barnard students that attended the “March for Our Lives,” said.
As this anxiety has grown, many students have expressed that they feel unprepared to deal with an active shooter on Columbia’s campus.
Rather than issuing any far-reaching statements, the University’s predominant response to the Columbia community has been gradual changes in Public Safety’s methods of informing and preparing the student body for the event of an active shooter.
According to a statement given to Spectator by Public Safety, active shooter training is given to all new students, faculty, and staff during orientation, citing that “the incidence of active shooter situations is a tragic but real threat.” During the mandatory NSOP safety presentation, students are taught the concept of “Run, Hide, Fight.” The office also stated that it holds active shooter training seminars conducted by the New York Police Department or FBI Counterterrorism training groups.
However, some students don’t remember ever attending such a session or being made aware of such seminars. Twenty-seven of 29 students asked stated that they had no recollection of active shooter training during NSOP. Those that did said they thought the training session was optional and had little attendance.
The solution, however, is likely more complicated than simply making more regular trainings mandatory or more widely communicating protocols for active shooter scenarios. Chair of Columbia’s department of epidemiology Charles Branas, who has conducted extensive research into the sociological aspects of gun violence, noted the lack of research into effective public safety measures.
“I think what we’re seeing [is] a hesitation from Columbia’s Public Safety because there are many different recommendations out there about what to do without a lot of evidence as to what works,” Branas said, “Other institutions are wrestling with this, how to do active shooter training, what it means, how it works, and how it works best. And frankly we don’t know. There are almost no evaluations conducted of active shooter training.”
Gun violence is a poorly researched topic, with a minimal numbers of experts in the field in comparison to other national issues, according to Branas. While this makes it difficult for institutions to implement policies that have proven effective, students remain concerned by the lack of a clear approach.
“I think it’s really necessary, especially today when gun violence seems so pervasive, especially in schools and colleges... It’s also really scary that this is hitting so close to home,” said Avani Bahl, BC ’20.
More detailed information about active shooter protocols and guidelines can be found here on Public Safety’s website.