When I got to the morning writing course I teach at Lane Community College on Tuesday, I asked my students, “How many of you were worried about coming to class today?” Several students raised their hands. Looking around at their peers, several more put their hands in the air.
It was the first time our class met after a student in a writing course at Umpqua Community College came to class Oct. 1 armed with six guns and used them to kill eight fellow students, his writing instructor and finally, himself. He also wounded nine other students in a shooting spree he appears to have foreshadowed with threats on the internet bulletin board 4Chan.
UCC is just an hour down the road from LCC. In the aftermath, as communities and community colleges debate how to prevent yet another mass shooting and as we try to make sense out of senseless violence, mental health and gun control have been singled out. And for many students and faculty members at Lane, it has raised the question of whether they feel safe in their classrooms.
LCC writing instructor Angie Thompson teaches a 10 am writing course, the same time that instructor Larry Levine, who was killed in the rampage, taught his class, “so the attack at Umpqua felt a little less random,” she says. “Closer.”
Thompson says, “I don’t feel especially safe on campus — though LCC’s campus security or lack thereof isn’t the reason.” She says, “The shootings at UCC were a horrifying reminder of the possibility of random violence in public spaces here in America.”
Brian Kelly, LCC’s vice president of college services, also says the shooting “hits close to home.” He says, “This is heartbreaking,” adding “we have students who started their career at UCC. Oregon is a small community and the community college community is even smaller.”
In the wake of the shootings, which Kelly says have devastated many at LCC, the school is directing students to its counseling center and to resources such as the White Bird Clinic.
In terms of prevention, Kelly says, “We have to start saying things. We have to see things and tell people. When something doesn’t seem right, we have to tell someone. I think we can do a better job of being agile and looking out for things.”
LCC President Mary Spilde echoes that sentiment, saying in a recent email to colleagues, “If you hear someone talking about violence towards others, please report it. If you see a threatening post on social media, please report it. If a friend confides something that concerns you, report it. If you feel there is an imminent threat, report it.”
Details emerging about the shooter, Chris Harper-Mercer, indicate he struggled with mental illness. However, as Rep. Val Hoyle points out, framing the shooting around mental health means “we cast people who suffer from mental illness as violent, when they are not proportionally more violent than any other segment of the population.”
Hoyle says that despite some improvements in Oregon’s community mental health funding in the 2015 legislative session, we still have far to go. “We need to do more. For every person who doesn’t want to talk about gun safety and talks about mental illness, put your money where you mouth is,” she says, and fund better mental health care.
Kelly says LCC has 35 people employed in public safety, and the school is staffed 24-7. “The safety of the staff and students is important to us,” he says, pointing to the school’s safety committee, emergency planning team and threat assessment team. He says hundreds on campus have been trained on active shooter scenarios.
The school has a succinct emergency manual that covers everything from what to do in medical emergencies to earthquakes, protests and active shooters. In active shooter situations, the manual says you will know of the danger either because you hear the shots and screams, or because there is an announcement over the public address system.
As for what to do, there are essentially three options: run/evacuate, hide/shelter in place or flight/take action. If you flee, you are advised to leave your belongings and reminded that buildings might be locked — Kelly says LCC has an electronic control system that locks buildings down. If you hide, you are told to turn off the lights and silence your phone.
As a last resort, and only if your life is in imminent danger, the manual advises to try to incapacitate the shooter or throw things at him.
LCC writing instructor Daphne Gabrieli says she does feel safe on campus in the wake of the shootings: “I trust my community, my colleagues and my students. I trust myself.” But, she says, “I still am not sure what we should do about gun culture.”
Gabrieli points out that James Madison and those who wrote the Second Amendment also haven’t read the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. “Just as our understanding of mental illness and social illness changes with the times, so should our understanding of gun laws and gun rights,” Gabrieli says.
LCC’s public safety officers are not armed, Kelly tells EW, and neither were Umpqua’s. Kelly points to the speed at which emergency responders showed up at UCC — a timeline released by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office shows the shooter was down within 10 minutes of the first 911 call — and says an emergency at LCC would also engender a swift community response.
Much has been made of UCC being a “gun-free” campus. But like LCC, which technically bans guns, under Oregon state law students and community members who have a concealed handgun license can legally carry a concealed weapon on community college campuses. However, under an LCC board policy, Lane employees with a concealed handgun license cannot carry a concealed weapon.
Incidents like the UCC shooting put such laws and policies that allow guns on campus “under a microscope,” Kelly says. He says he expect the shooting will “revive the discussion” at the state level, and LCC is “happy to participate in those discussions.”
LCC has joined with other colleges and groups across the nation, posting photos of students and faculty holding signs saying #IamUCC to show solidarity with Umpqua as the students and staff return to campus. To participate, create a sign with the hashtag or borrow one from Spilde’s office, take a picture and email it to email@example.com.
To report a threat or concern at LCC, call Public Safety at either its non-emergency number, (541) 463-5558 or its emergency line at (541) 463-5555.
The community college students killed at Umpqua Community College on Oct. 1 were: Lucero Alcaraz, 19; Quinn Glen Cooper, 18; Kim Saltmarsh Dietz, 59; Lucas Eibel, 18; Jason Dale Johnson, 33; Sarena Dawn Moore, 44; Treven Taylor Anspach, 20; Rebecka Ann Carnes, 18.
The writing instructor was Larry Levine, 67.