Community calls for action plan following recent mass shootings
Students and faculty at Hofstra worry about local safety measures in light of the recent shootings. Infographic courtesy of Isabel Saadeh
Recent shootings on school campuses across the nation have pushed students and faculty to wonder how safe Hofstra’s own campus, a gun-free zone, would be if an active shooter were to enter the premises.
The reality of such potential danger has caused some of those who study and work at the university to feel unsafe. On the other hand, others believe that Public Safety (PS) has the means and protocol to protect the community in the event of such a situation. Hofstra, much like the nation, is divided on a solution.
Karen O’Callaghan, the director of PS, says that the university does have a procedure called “Run, Hide, Fight” in the event of an emergency that the office “puts out to students in the beginning of the semester” and is the official procedure for an active shooter situation. “It’s a short video on Public Safety’s website,” O’Callaghan said. In addition to this policy, Hofstra relies on the Campus Alert Notification Network to keep the community informed.
The procedure, which instructs individuals to flee the scene, take shelter and create a barricade, and aggressively fight back against the shooter as a last resort, can be found on the Hofstra Portal under PS’s Emergency Procedures.
Although freshman drama major Dallon Fouriner does know of the general “Run, Hide, Fight” procedure coined by the Department of Homeland Security that Hofstra adapted and incorporated into their own emergency procedure, he doesn’t feel entirely comfortable with it.
“As far as I’ve seen, there’s zero protocol set up for students on what they should be doing, doing to prepare if that were to happen, [or] what they should be doing at the time [of the event],” Fouriner said.
Richard Himelfarb, a political science professor, says that he is aware that there is a procedure in place, but he is unclear of what it entails. “I would say that that’s the norm. I would say that if you went around to my colleagues, they would have no idea exactly what to do.”
O’Callaghan emphasized that Hofstra is a gun-free campus and PS officers are unarmed. “The first thing we do is call 911, because we’re not police officers, we don’t carry weapons,” she said. “Public Safety officers would be acting as civilians. They do whatever they possibly could do, but in most parts, that’s providing information and intelligence to the local law enforcement who are equipped to respond.”
With a large portion of the student population living in houses near campus, commuter students worry about their safety after recent shootings. In May 2017, The Chronicle interviewed a Hofstra student who was held up at gun point, pistol-whipped and attacked in his own off-campus residence. Having felt particularly troubled by the encounter in his home that was within spitting distance of the Netherlands, he said it’s time for Hofstra to up their security on and around campus.
“When I was living on Lawrence and there was the robbery where I was attacked basically, there was a camera on Lawrence that Hofstra had set up next to the [PS] booth. That camera could have caught their license plate number. It could have seen the suspect. It could have seen everything, but that camera hasn’t worked in something like over a year or two years. There are other cameras like that all over Hofstra’s campus that are just there and don’t actually work,” said the student, who wished to remain anonymous.
Some faculty members are torn as to whether or not guns should be permitted on campus. “If we have Public Safety officers who are unarmed, it basically means we have no choice but to wait until Nassau County Police arrive, that could be 20-25 minutes, during which time, the potential for carnage is unbelievable,” Himelfarb said. He also suggested allowing responsible faculty and staff to carry firearms if they receive training and annual recertification.
Other professors disagree and believe that arming PS would be detrimental to the overall problem. Timothy Daniels, an anthropology professor, echoed this sentiment, saying that he is “opposed to increasing the number of guns” on campus, as well as arming teachers with guns.
O’Callaghan said that Hofstra is unable to get guns on campus, and state law only permits certain conditions in which officers can be armed. “In order to have a police power on campus, we would actually have to get some kind of legislation,” she said. She also said that it is important to note that with about 116 buildings on campus, a few armed professors may not make a substantial difference. “What are one or two people with a weapon going to be able to do?” O’Callaghan said.
The college student perspective has garnered widespread interest politically as young people pressure Congress to move forward with legislation that would further regulate access to guns in the United States.
On Monday, Feb. 26, Hofstra posted the following message on several social media platforms: “We encourage our community to exercise freedom of expression and engage in meaningful and respectful dialogue. Students who participate in peaceful protests will not jeopardize their admission to (nor status at) Hofstra.”
The posts were part of a national collegiate response to the tragic events in Parkland, Florida.
Assistant Vice President of University Relations Karla Schuster said in an email, “Hofstra believes in and encourages peaceful civic engagement. And like many colleges and universities across the country, we felt it was important given the national spotlight on student activism in the wake of the Parkland (FL) school shooting that we reiterate our commitment to those ideals to current and prospective students.”
A student-run protest and march will be held on Hofstra’s campus on Wednesday, March 14, beginning at 11:30 a.m. in the Sondra and David S. Mack Student Center. The march will include a talk-back where the floor will be open for people to share their own experiences.
Sophomore Sky Dellasala created the Facebook event “Hofstra March for Our Lives” in late February to “March in solidarity with Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.” Since its creation, the page has garnered campus-wide attention as over 200 people have either shown interest or shared that they are going to the event on the page.
“It had been maybe a week, and I had been really frustrated. The school didn’t say anything. No one said anything and nothing was happening,” the film major said of her initial reaction after hearing news of the shooting in Parkland, Florida. “I thought it was extremely important that this wasn’t one of those times where we talk about gun control for two or three weeks and then we just stop. I think that’s what this protest is for.”
After making the event page on Facebook, she coordinated with senior history and political science major Jesse Saunders, freshman religious studies and history major Rosario Navalta and freshman public relations major Brynne Levine, each experienced in protest management or other forms of local community activism.
Saunders was particularly troubled by the recent events and felt compelled to take action at Hofstra. “I think, for me, that happened and then a week passed and then immediately my sister’s school was on lockdown because a kid had brought a bullet casing to school to show it off.”
After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Saunders stressed the fact that Democrats in Congress failed to convince opponents that gun regulation may be the answer.
“I think that Parkland is kind of showing people that … there is a tipping point to this debate, and it sucks that it had to happen 20 years after Columbine, but it’s here,” she said.
Navalta emphasized the importance of the stories being heard by the college students in Florida. “The Parkland victims are all students within voting age now who are about to go to college,” they said. “These people are now speaking out, and you can’t tell them they’re wrong because they had to look down the barrel of a gun. [These people] are students… they watched their friends die.”
Levine added, “You can’t diminish their voices.”
With specific concerns and criticisms relating to Hofstra, the group has aired their grievances to administrators in regard to police response time, classrooms in the basements of academic buildings such as the Gallon Wing which Saunders described as “a cattle shoot” and the fact that Hofstra falls within three different precincts.
On a final note, Levine said, “Definitely, our active shooter preparedness needs improvement.”