Students Express Security Concerns Post-Parkland
April 21st marked the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, a tragedy which shocked the nation and forever changed debates on gun control and school safety. Since Columbine, more than 187,000 students have been exposed to gun violence at school, most recently being the students of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Marist College has not been immune to gun violence and threats over the course of its history. In 1975, 17-year-old Shelly Sperling was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend in the school’s cafeteria. In 2015, Marist was forced into lockdown for several hours following threats tweeted by 16-year-old Frank Brink, a Poughkeepsie teen.
“There have been cases where students have made threats to professors, said Dr. JoAnne Myers, chair of Marist’s political science department. “In fact, one of those threats was against me and some other professors a long time ago.” These tragedies have ignited debates and marches across the United States from those demanding action and change, particularly among students.
“The sad part of this whole thing is that [these tragedies are] noth- ing new,” said John Blaisdell, director of safety and security at Marist. “What we want to do is be prepared in the event of an emergency, prepared to the best of our ability.”
The Marist Circle surveyed 435 students, collecting thoughts and opinions related to these tragedies, as well as general safety and security at Marist. Overall, 89.7 percent (390) of the students surveyed stated they feel safe on campus. However, of those who do not feel safe, the overwhelming reasoning was due to the ease of access of campus.
Marist College strives to create a sense of community, including the greater community of Poughkeepsie. However, some students believe Marist should guard its entrances through increased security measures.
“I think that’s a dangerous route to go,” said Ted Dolce, Marist student body president. “We have to find different ways of confronting those fears we may have without being an exclusive group of people.”
“To most people in the Poughkeepsie community that I’ve interacted with - mind you this is only my personal interaction - there’s Poughkeepsie, and then there’s Marist,” he added. “Even though we are active and we do a lot of things in the community, there’s a bridge that’s missing. To show tangible, physical “keep-out” entrance points will further divide the two communities from each other.”
“One of the things Marist is trying to teach students is to be members of the global world,” My- ers said. “You don’t become a part of the global world in a bubble.”
Blaisdell claims creating more secure entrance points is unwarranted, stating there is little to no “stranger-type crime” on campus, but rather that most incidents derive from “student tomfoolery.”
“There’s always improvements we can make, but does it stop the person from walking through the front gate and doing something horrific? The answer to that is no. But we can respond in appropriate ways,” Blaisdell said.
Randi Blumenthal-Guigui, internship director and lecturer in Marist’s department of criminal justice, believes that entrances can be secured without using excessive measures.
“You can definitely minimize risk by having a campus where you have to show your I.D. before coming in,” she said. “It doesn’t require going through every single trunk and every single item, and something could get in, but you greatly reduce the chances.”
In addition to securing entrance points, some students state that Marist should have armed security or campus police.
According to data collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 75 percent of campuses were using armed officers as of 2011-2012. Moreover, 92 percent of public campuses used sworn police officers, compared to 38 percent of private campuses.
“As the student body president, I feel that we do have to look at every option to see what would work, but I personally don’t think that having armed personnel will help us,” Dolce said. “I think if we were to have armed security on campus, it creates a constant fear...I don’t think that’s healthy for us mentally at all.
“What we have to do is have some processes in place to keep our students as safe as we pos- sibly can while still having a college environment,” Blaisdell said. “We’re a security department, and that’s a pretty conscious decision. Could we be a police department? I guess we could, but that’s not what this college wants...We simply don’t need it.”
Blaisdell emphasized that in the event of a shooting, Marist security would coordinate with local and state law enforcement who are trained and equipped for those scenarios.
“That’s what they’re prepared for,” he said. “We are the eyes and ears, we want to be alerting the community, help anyone who is hurt or injured, and direct law enforcement in the right direction to stop the threat as quickly as possible.”
“Even though a lot of our security officers are retired police officers, they’re retired for a reason,” Myers said. “That’s how it should be.”
“I’m sure some of the security of- ficers did not sign up to carry weapons,” said Amelia Celeste, president of Marist’s criminal justice club. “A lot of them use this job as a way to step back from what they did before - there’s a lot of them who have law enforcement experience.”
Despite disagreeing with the idea of arming Marist security, Celeste believes that having an armed school resource officer would be beneficial.
“I think the presence of law enforcement on campus - if we’re just speaking on perception, and I do think perception is a deterrent - I think that would serve as another way to mitigate a risk,” she said.
In terms of security presence and effectiveness on campus, 50.1 percent (218) of students sur- veyed rated security as excellent (10.3 percent - 45 students) or good (39.8 percent - 173 students). However, 49.9 percent of students (217) rated security as average (29.9 percent - 130 students), fair (15.2 percent - 66 students) or poor (4.8 percent - 21 students).
Marist security informs students of emergencies through their MaristAlerts system, which can be customized to push notifications through Marist email, personal email, SMS text message, a phone call to one’s cell phone, and an alternate phone call.
Despite 97.2 percent (423) of students being aware of MaristAlerts, a majority of students surveyed (61.8 percent - 269 students) would not know what to do if a school shooter came onto campus, and 67.1 percent (292) of students are not aware that Marist Security’s website provides information on how to act in the event of emer- gencies, including school shooters.
Unsurprisingly, 50.6 percent (220) of students do not feel that Marist security does an adequate job of informing students of emergency protocols and procedures.
“We know what to do in case of a fire, [but with shootings], there is no training and no drills that happen throughout cam- pus,” Dolce said. “That’s something I think SGA is pushing for.”
“I think there’s definitely a stigma surrounding talking about this because you don’t want to believe it can happen here,” said Celeste. “In high schools and middle schools, and even in some elementary schools, they have drills...If we’re able to reach kids at that age, there’s no reason that we should not be reaching college students.”
“You think about it, and you think you know what you would do, but in a moment of chaos thoughts escape you,” she added . “You need something uniform to turn to in that moment.”
“On the one hand you don’t want to think about it too much, but on the other hand it’s really stupid not to be prepared for something like this,” said Blumenthal-Guigui. On April 27, MaristAlerts delivered a “emergency preparedness drill,” encouraging students to “take a few minutes to consider what you would do if there were an active shooter on campus.” If students were “unsure of what to do,” the alert included a link to the safety and security website.
Dolce stated that the Student Government Association (SGA) plans on addressing the lack of awareness, aiming to keep information “fresh and innovative” through social media initiatives, town halls for specific topics, and training for SGA members.
“If you’re speaking to an SGA member, they should be able to let you know what to do, where to go, anything like that,” Dolce said. “We do need more resources that are student empowered alongside security.”
Dolce believes any decisions regarding safety and security should be made “unilaterally,” involving all members of the Marist community.
“Nothing is going to get 100 percent support, but I think how we protect our campus should come from all of us, not just a select few.”