The anxiety of gun violence looms in higher education

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Photo: Beacon Archives

ECPD entrance/ Beacon Archives

By Chloe Els, Staff Writer

During orientation week, the Emerson College Police Department told every first year about an active shooter training offered on campus. Although new Emerson students have not had a chance to participate in this training yet, it has already imparted a valuable lesson—or at the very least a grim reminder that school shootings are not limited to K-12 campuses; they can happen in college, too. 

From my first year of kindergarten to the final year of high school, there were 67 active shooter incidents in American K-12 schools. Over the past four years, in high school especially, stories of these shootings haunted me. With every new, horrific headline, I grieved for the victims and their families. I prayed for my safety at school. I became hyper aware of potential dangers on my high school campus. When I crossed the stage at graduation, I felt relief. Cold and heavy, like I had crossed an invisible finish line. “I made it,” I told myself. I didn’t know how or why, but I made it. I felt the danger had passed.

Three months later, I arrived at Emerson College and learned about the ALICE active shooter training program offered on campus. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. The aim of the program is to encourage “proactive tactics” in response to potential shooters on campus; new threats and very real threats I had never let myself consider before. In the past couple weeks, I have come to accept that school shootings are not limited to high school and primary education. In fact, some of the deadliest school shootings in America have occurred at colleges: Oikos University, Umpqua Community College, and Virginia Tech.

This newly gained knowledge made me grieve the carefree college experience I had envisioned. I felt cheated and started to wish the violence hadn’t been brought to my attention. Existing in the strange limbo period of knowing the threat before knowing how to respond to it, I felt that I would have rather just not known about it at all. I thought maybe ignorance really was bliss. Despite this, I have come to believe that there is value in my new awareness. 

According to Bob Smith, the Chief of the ECPD, one of the main goals of the ALICE program is teaching students situational awareness, instructing students to remain aware of their surroundings and learn to recognize threats. This skill helps students recognize and communicate threats, and, in the moment, “lessen the ability of the armed hostile intruder to inflict harm,” Smith said.

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Even before attending the training, this idea of situational awareness has already taken hold—just knowing the vitality of the training is an important reminder that we have not left school shootings behind. It’s devastating, but it’s critical.

For first years, the initial weeks of college often feel like a turning point. A chance to leave behind the old and embrace the new. However, not everything can be left behind, and not everything should be. There is value in embracing new lessons when addressing gun violence in a new academic setting, just as there is value in knowing we have not left threats of gun violence behind. 

The ALICE training is an important lesson for the safety of every Emerson student, and those of us who have yet to participate in it still have a lot to learn. I hope new students at Emerson don’t disregard that the lesson has already begun. Let this be our wake up call.