More than 400 people have been shot on school campuses since the devastating shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary School six years ago. But each person who has lost their life is more than just another tally to a tragic number. With each mass shooting, the conversation of gun control and the right to bear arms comes to the surface. About a week and a half ago, the conversation started again – but this time, the University must take action.
Seventeen teachers and students were killed by a student who came in with a gun at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Feb. 14 in Parkland, Fla. This unfortunately won’t be the last shooting at a school, and the University can no longer act as if any school is safe from the real possibility of a shooting.
For students affected by such tragedies, knowing that there are people at the University concerned with their well-being can go a long way.
Although there is little that GW – or any one school – can do to prevent people from being harmed in an active shooter situation, the University must consider all the steps that we should take to protect ourselves. We must reevaluate the standards and expectations that we have in place to best protect students and staff. The University should start taking steps to accomplish this by informing students of what to do in emergencies, reevaluating campus security, reaching out to all students affected by tragedies and taking a stance to protect students across the country.
This can start by implementing practices as simple as requiring professors to use a few minutes of the first class of the semester to discuss the best evacuation route in an emergency. Every building and classroom is different, and people can become confused when panicked, so we should have this quick but essential conversation early on.
GW must also acknowledge that Foggy Bottom is unique. We are an urban and open campus where someone can easily walk off the Metro and into almost any of our buildings without needing to tap in or show identification. As a result, it is time for administrators to decide what the University’s boundaries are going to be with the rise of shootings on campuses around the country.
Residence halls currently have differing levels of security, which officials have said are determined by different factors like foot traffic, crime data and the size and location of the buildings. If the University wants to establish uniform security throughout all campus housings, they should station a University Police Department officer in every residence hall to give students a better sense of safety.
There are other areas where GW should be reevaluating their security levels. All of our campus buildings – from District House to the Marvin Center – are open to the public. Only the Milken Institute of Public Health requires students and faculty to tap in with their GWorld, but visitors can still get in by showing identification and signing in. A decision to close off University spaces would be a radical one. It would affect business for dining vendors and likely attract complaints from students too. But this is still an issue administrators should consider if safety is a priority for their student body. But that’s still not enough.
Although GW shouldn’t overlook any area where the school’s security and preparedness can be improved, the only way to concretely prevent mass shootings is through gun control. GW already lobbies, albeit privately and – in recent years – only for local causes, though most of the details of their interests are unclear to the public. In light of these shootings on school campuses, GW should publicly lobby for gun control. Unless the University believes that it’s completely prepared to deal with an active shooter on it’s campuses, they should have a vested interest in being a part of the conversation. Though there are political ramifications that GW would consider for taking such a public stance, it doesn’t need to be a political issue. The students affected by the shooting in Parkland – most of whom can’t even vote yet – are speaking up and demanding change that could prevent a future shooting from taking place. No school or university should wait until a tragedy becomes personal. This conversation should transcend party lines because, in the simplest sense, it’s about student safety.
Last week, the admissions dean announced GW will back prospective students who have faced discipline for participating in protests at their high schools. Students can join the activists from Parkland in the March for Our Lives on the National Mall March 24, or participate in similar marches in cities across the country like Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles, to demand increased gun control. The D.C. Facebook event already has more than 25,000 people listed as attending.
As difficult of a subject as this is, it is time for GW to think about how they will face gun violence going forward.
But we also must remember that the University is made up of students from all over the nation, including from cities that have been affected by mass shootings. Last week, about 70 students gathered for a vigil to remember the victims in Parkland, and some had a personal connection to them. It is important that someone from the University reaches out to these students after the shootings to help them move past it. Some resident advisors and residential directors already keep track of where their students are from and reach out to them individually when this occurs, but that should be consistently happening across all RAs and residential directors. For students affected by such tragedies, knowing that there are people at the University concerned with their well-being can go a long way. Administrators should also consistently reach out to students after national tragedies, like they did with students from Florida after Hurricane Irma hit last year. This prevents the University from giving off a false impression that they believe some students or areas matter more than others.
Three years ago, The Hatchet’s editorial board argued that the University must get serious about active shooter prevention. Since then, no changes have been made. As difficult of a subject as this is, it is time for GW to think about how they will face gun violence going forward.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Irene Ly and contributing opinions editor Renee Pineda, based on discussions with managing director Melissa Holzberg, sports editor Matt Cullen, copy editor Melissa Schapiro and design editor Zach Slotkin.