Because my column runs on Mondays, I try to keep things fairly light-hearted so as not to overwhelm anyone at the beginning of the week. Besides, how intense could a campus life column really be? Typically, the topics revolve around “eat here” or “buy this” or “stop being an ass,” but in the last few weeks, with the devastating number of campus shootings occurring across the country, it seemed an appropriate time to strongly urge everyone – staff, students and parents – to sign up for UCSB Alert: alert.ucsb.edu.
My first experience with campus violence took place in the first grade at my overcrowded San Francisco elementary school. Some random guy flashed his pistol at two of the school’s fifth-grade students during recess. From then on, I was terrified to walk from my classroom, across the schoolyard, to the parking lot for fear of being shot. Many of us learned about campus violence for the first time during our middle school years, which can be attributed to the 1999 Columbine shooting that left 12 students and one teacher dead. Eight years later, the U.S. was engulfed by news of the Virginia Tech massacre – considered the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history – which left 32 victims dead.
There have been four other incidents of campus violence at universities across the country in recent history – including shootings at University of Washington, Delaware State, Louisiana Technical College and the most recent Valentine’s Day shooting at Northern Illinois University. In October 2007, an Ohio high school suffered from yet another shooting. Three additional, separate incidents happened within the span of five days this February at a Tennessee high school, an Ohio elementary school and one much closer to home: a hate crime incident at an Oxnard junior high. This brings the total number of campus shootings to eight in the last 10 months, five of which happened in the last three weeks.
Nobody wants to feel unsafe on a school campus. After all, haven’t we grown up with signs saying things like “Safe Zone” and “Zero Tolerance?” Could it be that bigger precautions need to be instated to protect our students? Many campuses have failed miserably at alerting their students when violence has occurred. At Virginia Tech, the university didn’t send e-mails to students about the incident until almost two hours after the first shooting occurred – many would never see the emergency messages in time. Luckily, at both Delaware State and Northern Illinois University, the universities responded to the violence within twenty minutes, sending out messages and posting on the university’s official Web site.
Admirably, UCSB has commenced its UCSB Alert program. This alert system allows university officials to contact you during an emergency by sending messages to your e-mail account, cell phone, BlackBerry and even pager. Heaven forbid there is ever a violent incident on our remarkably well-behaved campus – or, according to the Web site, a terrorist attack or severe weather alert. UCSB Alert will provide you with real-time updates, instructions on where to go, what to do or not do and emergency contact information. The site even has a nifty flow chart showing the movement of information.
Is this meant to scare you? Sure, but only in a way that will spur all of you to sign up for UCSB Alert. It takes all of two minutes to provide your e-mail address and cell phone number. It takes about 30 seconds after you’ve completed registration for the alert system to send you a test text message. Don’t be scared, just sign up. A presentation I was forced to sit through in the sixth grade taught me one thing I still carry with me today: Violence has no zip code. It could happen here. Some would argue the 2001 David Attias vehicular killings are proof enough.
The truth is, we’re lucky to have such a tolerant and kind campus. Whenever my bike chain falls off, there are always several offers from random strangers to help put it back on. Aside from snide comments hurled from bikers to skateboarders on the bike paths, I haven’t even witnessed too many blatantly rude remarks. But that doesn’t mean caution isn’t warranted. Thanks, UCSB, for caring enough about our safety to implement UCSB Alert. Now it’s up to you, my Gaucho peers, to care enough about yourselves to sign up.