Worker safety and gun violence in the academic workplace


During the past two weeks, shootings resulting in multiple fatalities and severe injuries at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, Northern Arizona University, and Texas Southern University have caused understandable alarm at many institutions of higher education. Recent entries in the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s campus safety link read like a horrible crime blotter:


Not surprisingly, many who work in colleges and universities are asking, what if it happens here? Do we know what to do? The answer, apparently, is that levels of readiness vary widely. Here’s a brief excerpt of an Associated Press examination of training and protocols for on-campus gun incidents at public universities in over 40 states, reported by Lisa Leff and Ryan J. Foley:

At some institutions, such as the Colorado School of Mines and Arkansas State University, training on how to respond to an armed intruder has become as much a part of fall orientation as lessons on alcohol abuse. Students hear presentations covering their options, such as running, hiding or fighting back.

Other schools have purely voluntary training. Or they put information on what to do in an emergency on websites, where it can easily be overlooked by students and staff members. Many public college and university systems leave it up to their individual campuses to draw up emergency plans and decide what level of training, if any, to give employees and students.

Overall, those employed in higher education settings have reason to be concerned about the safety of their work environments. True, the statistical probability of gun violence will likely continue to pale to that of other safety risks in higher education settings. But we should not be surprised when more shootings occur. The reasons for this are many and intertwined, including America’s gun culture, mental health concerns, and the stressors present on our college campuses.

6 responses

  1. I have looked at several opinion pieces regarding the US violence phenomena. These opinions vary from short-sighted (arm everyone for safety) to practical (anger is the precipitating factor; not all mass killers are autistic) to pathology (anger mixed with psychopathic origins {schizoid, psychopath, autism). There is no good data as it is a taboo subject as far as the NRA and Congress is concerned. More and more, I see the influence of special interests that negate scientific data for $$’s own agenda. And, money is implicated in university and college budges to train for these very sad incidents. Unless we become a more relational society that actually believes in candid communication as an intervention to anger and reach out to those hurting in their anger, these incidents will continue. We are all accountable to this mess as we, as a society, allow money from special interests run our government.

    • I am interested in the references made to autism. Have you seen research that links violence – such as described in the newspaper headlines – and individuals with autism? Thank you.

    • Unfortunately, just like climate change, the far right is instantly politicizing the issue, and at times the liberals are playing the same game. The gun lobby suddenly turns squishy sensitive to mental health issues if they can serve as a distraction from gun policy. Disappointing that some liberals discount the mental health aspects because they want to treat this as being solely a question of access to guns.

      That said, I agree that blaming the “mentally ill” is an intentional dodge, and as the Times piece points out, it can be an erroneous one too.

  2. Anyone could find him or herself in a horrific situation without much more than a moment’s notice. How does one even begin to prepare for all the variables that could be present and need to be processed within a few seconds? If nothing else, becoming more adept at calming one’s mind in order to think more clearly is a skill that could benefit most anyone. But it’s all words…until something happens. I think we should look to the survivors for guidance and insight.

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