Letter to the Editor: How Important is Our Safety?
HOW IMPORTANT IS OUR SAFETY
Our culture privileges the uninhibited right to own firearms over the lives of kindergartners, teachers, moviegoers, worshippers, the police, and people in general. This reality has taught us to prepare for—even to expect—a mass shooting. Mass shooters have been educated in our schools and on our college campuses, including the University of Colorado Denver.
The attack at Ohio State University prompted Chancellor Dorothy Horrell to issue a statement that “the safety of our students, faculty and staff is our foremost priority.” But this statement is incongruent with what I have personally experienced working with CU Denver’s Campus Assessment Response and Evaluation (CARE) team. When students, faculty, and staff feel most vulnerable, the CARE team has failed to communicate with those involved, leaving us to prepare for the worst-case scenario on our own.
I am a CU Denver faculty member grappling with a student who has harassed and intimidated other members in this community. I’m writing anonymously out of concern for both my safety and my job security. As Horrell advocated for in her statement, we’ve been taught that “if you see something, say something.” We look for “red flags” and “warning signs” to prevent acts of violence in lieu of legislation to curb the frequency of mass shootings. After reporting multiple incidents to the CARE team, other faculty members and I have been met with a frustratingly slow and obtuse response. Without the context necessary to fully understand the situation, the only information we have had to go on is what we’ve learned from our interactions with this student. Instead, we need direct, transparent communication with the CARE team regarding whether or not students pose a threat to themselves or anyone else on campus.
I acknowledge that the work of threat-assessment and intervention is complicated work that requires coordination with multiple departments and offices on campus. I also understand that there is a delicate balance involved with protecting student privacy, providing students with mental health resources, and ensuring campus safety. When the CARE team is at its best, students are empowered with the resources and support they may not have access to otherwise. But in order to successfully support the students we’ve devoted our careers to, the CARE team must provide faculty members with the information we need in order to make the right decisions and to feel safe on campus.
CU Denver is intimately familiar with the uncomfortable truth that students are capable of committing acts of violence. Since the Aurora theater shooting in 2012, it has only become more difficult to distinguish the difference between someone who poses a serious threat and someone who doesn’t have access to the resources and support that he or she needs. One institution cannot change this culture, but CU Denver must do everything in its power to ensure the safety of our community.
The CARE team’s response—specifically its lack of communication—has been so disconcerting that I question its ability to handle a student who directly threatens violence. In order to effectively support the student body, the CARE team must effectively coordinate with the appropriate departments, offices, and faculty when a situation arises. Chancellor Horrell, if faculty members are told to rely on the CARE team when we are concerned about students, then we need to be confident that our concerns will be addressed and that we will be kept in the loop. At your request to keep our community safe, I’ve seen something and I’m saying something. Please do something.