The issue, in anxiety-distilled form: It took 10 hours or more for some students to receive an e-mail about the fatal shooting outside of North Campus last Wednesday night. The mass ire that followed probably spread the news more quickly than the university we attend.
In fact, I still haven’t received an e-mail. But I’m not sure it matters.
What I did receive, before I even checked my e-mail on Thursday morning, were calls from two different people about the situation who had found out about it on campus. They had little concrete knowledge, but they understood the basics: Someone was shot near North Campus and the police hadn’t found the suspect. I looked online right after those conversations and found that the suspect wasn’t likely still on campus.
The word of mouth on campus was part outrage and part confusion. I was part of the latter camp, mostly because I didn’t understand the outrage. Still, a mugshot of Engineering student Andrew Robert Myrick, the suspect in the shooting, met many students on alerts posted throughout campus. He remained at large going into the weekend. People were unsure of what was happening and didn’t understand why there wasn’t a more centralized effort to explain it.
The first, worthwhile question came in unison: Why didn’t I hear about this directly from the University? Then a second, more stupid one usually followed: Did we learn nothing from Virginia Tech?
The answer to the first question is that everyone should have. Four hours after the shooting, the first round of crime alerts went out, and anyone who opted to receive those alerts did, including University department heads. North Campus students found out by early morning, and an e-mail to all University affiliates went out by midday, though it had the potential to take all afternoon to reach everyone.
The reasoning behind the second question escapes me. The actual details of what happened here last week and at Virginia Tech last year have nothing in common and don’t come close to addressing the same issue. Though the incident Wednesday inescapably taps into a growing concern over safety at universities nationwide, comparing this situation to that one reflects an unproductively broad and alarmingly cavalier disregard for what actually happened in both cases.
It seems the notification system did its job in this case. I found the appropriate information within a reasonable amount of time, especially given everything the police knew, and it strikes me as a good thing that DPS exercised caution before sending out an incomplete or misleading alert.
If you disagree – and I assume those who do are the people who are fanning the Virginia Tech flame – I’m not sure why there isn’t more of an active discussion happening. There is still debate about the best way to notify students in these cases. Text messaging is on its way, apparently, though I find it difficult to imagine how that will be more effective (or faster) than the current system of crime alerts. There remains no consensus, and it is clearly a concern for many people, evidenced by the outcry this past week.
But bear in mind that there’s no indication from the University’s administration that it believes the situation was handled inappropriately. This isn’t viewed as a screw-up.
For my part, I think the notifications were prudently distributed. If you don’t, this can’t end in a shoulder-shrug, and you can’t continue to make tenuous parallels to other tragedies every time violence makes its way onto campus. I felt safe last week and still feel safe this week. If you don’t, now is the time to deal with it.
But now that the situation looks increasingly like it didn’t affect any other students and a holiday weekend has passed, the furor has quieted, which reflects much more dangerously on the University at large than any of the administration’s actions last week.
Jeffrey Bloomer, Daily Managing Editor
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