By Doug Ward

We often idealize a college campus as a place of ideas and personal growth, but we have to remember that danger can erupt without notice.

The shootings at Michigan State this week were, sickeningly, just the latest in string of killings over the past year that also involved students or faculty members from Virginia, Iowa State, and Arizona, according to Inside Higher Ed. At Idaho, a Ph.D. student has been charged with killing four undergraduates. At K-12 schools, 332 students were shot on school property last year and 35 this year so far, according to the K-12 Shooting Database. Twenty-one of those students died.Screenshot of the Michigan State University website

A colleague at Michigan State talked about the surreal feeling of dealing with a mass shooting on a home campus. The frequency of such shootings has made gruesome acts seem distant and almost mundane. The headlines flicker past, and the killings always seem to take place someplace else — until they don’t.

There is no clear way to predict those types of mass killings, although researchers says that assailants are usually male and have a connection to a campus. There are steps we can take to protect ourselves, though.

In a visit to a pedagogy class I taught in 2017, two members of the KU Police Department, Sgt. Robert Blevins and Sgt. Zeke Cunningham, offered excellent advice on how to prepare and what to do if you find yourself in peril.

What you can do now

Know your surroundings

Familiarity with the campus and its buildings could prove crucial in an emergency. Know where exits are, Cunningham said. Learn where hallways and stairways lead. Walk around buildings where you work or have class and get a sense of the building layout and its surroundings. Make sure you know how to get out of a classroom, lab, or other work space. Large rooms usually have several doors, so pay attention to where they are and where they go. That will help you make decisions if you find yourself in a crisis.

Sign up for campus alerts

The university sends announcements during emergencies, so make sure you are signed up to receive alerts in ways you are most likely to see them.

Pay attention

We are often lulled by routine and easily distracted by technology. In a classroom – especially a large classroom – it can be easy to shrug off a disruption in another part of the room. If something makes you uneasy, though, pay attention and take action, whether you are in a classroom, a hallway, or a building, or outside traveling across campus.

“Trust that voice in your head, because you’re probably right,” Blevins said.

Call the police

If you see a problem and think it could be an emergency, call 911. Don’t assume someone else already has. Blevins said the police would rather respond 100 times to something that ends up being innocuous than to show up to a tragedy that could have been prevented if someone had called. Different people also see different things, Cunningham added, and collectively they can provide crucial details that may allow the police to create a clearer picture of what happened.

What to do during an emergency

If you find yourself in an emergency, the officers said, follow these steps:

Stay calm

That can help you remember where to find exits and how to help others find safety. That is especially important for instructors.

“If you panic, the students are going to panic,” Cunningham said. If students make a mad rush for the door, he said, someone will get hurt. “So try to remain calm. I know that’s easier said than done in situations like this, but that will help the students stay calm.”

Run. Hide. Fight.

That is the approach that many law enforcement agencies recommend if there is an active shooter in your area. Michigan State sent those very instructions to students and faculty Monday night.

Run. If you can leave a dangerous area safely, go. Don’t hesitate. That’s where knowledge of the exits and the area around a building can make a difference. Encourage others to leave and get as many people to go with you as possible. Break windows to create an exit if you need to, as students at Michigan State did this week. If others are trying to go toward a dangerous area, warn them away.

Hide. If you are inside a room and cannot escape safely, turn off the lights and lock and barricade the doors with whatever you can find. Stay low and out of sight. Flip over tables and crouch behind them. Hide behind cabinets or anything else in a room. Silence your phone and stay quiet. Close any blinds or curtains. Many smaller rooms have locks you can engage, so lock the doors if you can. You usually can’t lock doors in large lecture halls, so barricade the doors with anything you can find. In some cases, the officers said, people have lain on the floor with their feet pushing against the door.

Those who commit mass shootings usually know they have only limited time before the police arrive, Blevins said, so they act quickly. If a door is locked, the shooter will usually pass by and look for one that isn’t locked. If lights are off, the person is more likely to pass by and seek out a room that looks like someone is inside. If you are in a room with many windows, get out if possible because the attacker will probably see you. If you can’t get out, conceal yourself as best you can.

Fight. As a last resort, fight back against an attacker. Use whatever you have available as a weapon: chairs, drawers, bottles, cords. Work together to bring down the attacker. If a gunman barges into a room and you don’t have a means of escape, you have no choice but to fight, Cunningham said.

“It sounds weird, but if they are an active shooter, you cannot hold back,” he said.  “Pick up a chair and smash him in the face. Kick him. Punch him. Pick up the fan and throw it and do whatever you can to get them to stop.”

The video below includes a dramatization of those practices in action. It’s a sad reality that mass shootings take place on campuses, but it makes sense for us to be aware of our surroundings wherever we are. The shootings at Michigan State emphasize that.

Other resources

Doug Ward is associate director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and an associate professor of journalism and mass communications.

By Doug Ward

Concealed carry laws in Colorado, Idaho and Texas generated considerable anxiety among faculty members and students when they took effect over the past few years. Many feared for their safety. Others worried about whether they could teach controversial topics in the same way.

“It felt like the end of the world here,” a professor in Idaho said.

Many faculty members at the University of Kansas have had much the same response to the Kansas concealed carry law, which allows anyone 21 or older to carry a concealed weapon in most areas of the university. That law took effect July 1, and fall classes will be the first time faculty members have had to deal with the law with a full contingent of students.

To help faculty maneuver through some of the challenges of concealed carry in their classes, CTE has created two new resources on its website. One provides frequently asked questions about how the new gun law might affect teaching and classroom etiquette. The other provides advice on how to spot potentially violent behavior and how to handle overly heated conversation. These are in addition to existing resources about handling hot topics in the classroom and resources that the Provost’s Office has published about concealed carry on campus. KU Public Safety also offers many safety resources on its website.

Public Safety plans to increase the presence of uniformed officers on campus in the coming weeks, and officers say that faculty, staff and students should report suspicious or dangerous behavior they observe. Blevins urges people to trust their instincts about danger.

“You’ve got to listen to that voice in your head because most of the time that’s going to be right,” Officer Robert Blevins, community support officer for KU Police, said earlier this year. “If it’s telling you that it’s time for me to leave this room, this isn’t safe, trust that voice in your head because you’re probably right.”

Even with concealed carry, it is worth keeping in mind that college campuses are generally safe places, with homicide rates that are a fraction of those for the United States as a whole (0.11 per 100,000 population vs. 4.8 per 100,000). That is certainly reflected at universities where concealed carry is now allowed. Despite widespread concern at the start, there were few lasting effects. Classes went on as planned. Instructors continued to address controversial topics, and there were no incidents in which bystanders were hurt with a gun.

Few lasting effects elsewhere

That bodes well for Kansas, which is the latest state to allow concealed carry on its campuses. The others, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, are Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

One reason that other states report few problems is that concealed carry applies to a small portion of the university community. The Kansas law, for instance, requires that anyone carrying a concealed weapon be 21 or over, meaning that nearly 60 percent of the student body on the Lawrence and Edwards campuses is not legally allowed to carry weapons. In addition, less than 20 percent of faculty and staff members support the concealed carry law, again leaving a small portion of people who might carry weapons to campus.

Another reason is that people have already been carrying guns – albeit illegally – to campus. The concealed carry law made that legal as of July 1. The statute – and the accompanying signs on campus buildings – forbidding guns on campus may have deterred some people, but certainly not all, Public Safety officers say.

“We arrest people with guns every year on this campus,” Blevins said.

Concealed carry laws certainly raised anxiety on campuses in other states. A professor in Colorado said that state’s law “had a silencing effect initially,” with some faculty monitoring their speech. Another described concealed carry legislation as “an effort to intimidate” and considered carrying pepper spray in response. Some instructors talked about being particularly anxious during office hours, especially because their offices have little foot traffic. Some protested silently by putting signs on their office doors. More recently, an instructor at San Antonio College wore a helmet and bulletproof vest to work to protest the Texas law.

There were at least two incidents related to concealed carry. (There may be others, but I found only two of consequence.) During the first semester that concealed carry was allowed in Idaho, a chemistry professor at Idaho State who was carrying a handgun in his pocket accidentally shot himself in the foot. None of the 20 students in his class was injured.

At the University of Texas at Austin, someone placed spent bullet casings in three buildings on campus after concealed carry was permitted in 2016. One was left atop a sign protesting concealed carry. Someone also defaced the sign, writing: “In the land of the pigs, the butcher is king. Oink … Oink … Oink.”

Yes, there’s a risk

Guns certainly carry a risk. Statistics from the National Institutes of Health indicate that workplaces that allow guns are five to seven times more likely to have a homicide than those that don’t.

Caesar Moore, police chief at the University of Houston, said in a radio interview in July that although his university had had few problems with concealed carry, he always remembers advice from his early days of police training.

“When my trainers taught me at the police academy, they told me, ‘Everyplace you go is dangerous now.’ I said what do you mean by that?” Moore said. “They told me it was dangerous because I was bringing a gun to the location. Because you are licensed to carry, that scene is automatically different because you have a gun there. So you must be wise in the way that you handle and treat that gun.”

Recent research suggests that those most likely to bring a gun to a college campus share two characteristics: They have low levels of trust in the federal government, and they don’t think the police can keep them safe. Another finding of the study meshes with anecdotal evidence about guns on campus: Concealed carry makes many people feel less safe.

The risks are real, just as they are in any other setting where thousands of people live, work and interact. The experiences of colleagues at other campuses with concealed carry suggest, though, that the new law is likely to have few visible effects. We can’t – and shouldn’t – discount the anxiety among students, and faculty and staff members. Ultimately, though, we can’t let that anxiety get in the way of helping our students learn.

Doug Ward is the associate director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and an associate professor of journalism. You can follow him on Twitter @kuediting.

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