Adjusting to the new ‘school shooting’ culture
Students talk about how the new ‘school shooting’ culture affects their daily college experience.
By Sonya Haines
In the wake of yet another school shooting, students are faced with the difficult question of whether they are safe in their school environment and whether their schools are prepared if an active-shooter situation were to happen on campus.
In April 2007, an active shooter went on a three-and-a-half hour shooting spree ending with 32 students and faculty dead at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia.
“I remember being in sixth grade and not really, fully, understanding the magnitude of the situation,” said Jennifer Smith, a senior at the University of Alabama. “I was upset, of course, but not as upset as I would be now about a college shooting as a senior in college.”
Growing up in a culture where school shootings are a common event, students find they think about what they would do in the case of an active shooter more often.
“I am from Parkland, Florida, and I am in a class with someone who is also from another town of a school shooting,” said Alejandra Tenorio, a senior at the University of Alabama. “The fact that we have gotten to the point where we are in classes with multiple people growing up in towns where these things are happening shows just how often it happens.”
Smith said she finds herself thinking about what she would do and where she would go if there were an active shooter once or twice most days during her walk to class. While she refuses to allow her fear of what could happen control the way she lives her life, the thoughts still haunt her daily.
“While talking about the most recent shooting in class the other day, a girl said that every time she enters into a classroom she thinks about what she would do in the case of an active shooter,” Tenorio said.
When asked if they feel the university has properly prepared them in the event of an active shooter, it is a natural response for students to say they feel prepared. However, when asked about specifics, students often drew blanks.
“Now that I think about it, I actually can’t think of anything specific,” Smith said. “I’m sure they’re out there, but they don’t do a good enough job of showcasing them the same as they do for, say, how to prepare for a tornado.”
Virginia Tech faced criticism after the shooting for the amount of time that it took to notify students of the situation. At 7:15 a.m. the 911 call was made reporting the first two victims. Students did not receive the first email until 9:26 a.m. reporting a shooting, but not conveying the severity of the issue or urging students to stay off campus. In fact, classes were not officially canceled until 10:16 a.m.
“Usually when a robbery happens, we get an email that starts with ‘earlier this morning’ and it kind of makes me a little on edge,” Smith said. “Like what if I was in the exact same place five minutes after it happened? I usually wouldn’t know about it right away.”
In January 2017 there was a hostage situation on Bryant Drive at the Alabama Credit Union. A man arrived with the intention of robbing the bank, police said. The credit union is on campus near the law school. While classes were not in session, they were set to begin the next day and there were students on campus returning from winter break.
“I was actually at the office in Coleman Coliseum when my mom started blowing up my phone about what was happening,” Smith said. “I, nor the other people in my office, knew about it. A local channel in Birmingham knew about it before the university notified those who were less than a mile away from the location.”
For Smith, a major concern continues to be the amount of time that would pass before notifications are sent out.
“I’m not trying to call out UAPD or anything because I don’t know if they have any kind of regulations on that sort of stuff, but it is a little concerning,” Smith said. “I love this university and I know they definitely have a system in place in case of an active shooter, but I do think they could do a better job of making that system more public and address it in a better way.”