Concerns about Philadelphia area schools brings issue close to campus
When the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) learned on Saturday of an anonymous threat of gun violence at a university in the Philadelphia area, they alerted Lafayette Public Safety and dozens of other schools, putting some on high alert.
Although no violence erupted on that day in relation to the threat, according to many news outlets, schools like University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Villanova University and Lehigh University sent out a warning to students about this potential threat.
Lafayette administrators decided against notifying students about this potential threat for a number of reasons.
“We felt the threat was remote enough that it did not seem like sending out a notice, that on other campuses was causing a lot of concern, was necessarily something that would benefit our campus,” Lafayette President Alison Byerly said.
According to Director of Public Safety Robert Sabattis, Lafayette also chose not to notify the students, because it was an anonymous threat that had no particular credibility among federal agencies and since Lafayette is located about 70 miles from Philadelphia, it usually is not considered near Philadelphia.
Lafayette still remained cautious of the posting and took measures to secure the school by adding more staff to public safety for at least the entire week of Oct. 5 and by communicating with the Easton Police Department.
“[We wanted] to have an increased presence on campus and make sure people are comfortable knowing there is an adequate police presence on campus,” Sabattis said.
Although no violence erupted on any college campus specifically on Monday, the possibility of campus violence, although statistically low, is something that has become more relevant in recent news with the tragic shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, which left 10 people dead, including the shooter, and nine injured.
“I think college campuses would be a lot safer if we had a different attitude towards gun control in this country,” Byerly said. “I think from the point of view of someone who is responsible for the safety of a college campus, we do as much as any school to try and remain vigilant and recognize the threat that is represented.”
The topic of gun control has tended to be a controversial issue in the U.S., it may be time for college and university presidents to take more of a stance on this issue than they have before, according to Byerly.
“The voices of college and university presidents are unfortunately not the dominant voices in this discussion,” Byerly said. “As president of a college, the safety of our students is our highest priority, and my personal belief is that students would be safer if guns were less freely available.”
The vast majority college campuses, including Lafayette, have implemented emergency situation protocol. Lafayette’s protocol can be found on the right side of public safety’s website under ‘emergency situations.’ The main point that is stressed in the active shooter section is to run, hide and fight, according to Vice President for Student Life Annette Diorio.
“[If there were an active shooter on campus] our first concern is to contain the threat and go after the threat,” Sabattis said.
Lafayette has never been targeted directly in a threat of violence, however public safety’s response to emergency calls about potential gun violence has been tested before.
“Last spring we had two calls from a sorority house on Hamilton Street about a man outside with a gun,” Sabattis said. “There was a vibrant, joint response from Easton PD and Lafayette College PD within seconds of the calls.”
Although it turned out that the alleged shooter was actually a painter with a spray gun, it was a nice confirmation that the response that public safety has trained for was exactly what happened, Sabattis said.
Sabattis went on to comment that the best thing that students can do to stay informed on emergency events on campus is to sign up for the E2 Campus Alert system which sends out emergency texts and emails instantly. Currently, less than half of the student body is signed up for this alert system.