UB officials announce support for students protesting gun violence

The latest mass shooting raises questions about protests, safety on school campuses

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UB has joined dozens of universities across the country in announcing it will not penalize prospective students who choose to peacefully protest gun violence.

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the site of a mass shooting on Feb. 14 that left 17 people dead and 16 more injured, have rallied behind the #NeverAgain movement, calling on legislators to enact stricter gun laws. Taking to Twitter and town halls, students have been at the center of the anti-gun violence movement, which appears to be gaining momentum in an unprecedented way.

On Tuesday, UB’s Faculty Senate unanimously passed a resolution supporting current and prospective students who partake in peaceful protest. The resolution calls for faculty to support all students who choose to participate in the national walk-out on March 14. Students and faculty across the country plan to walk out of classes for 17 minutes in honor of the 17 Marjory Douglas shooting victims. On Monday, the university released a statement through spokesperson John Della Contrada, saying it would not penalize students for peaceful protest.

“The full context and circumstances of students’ activity are always taken into consideration,” the statement read. “Using this approach, UB has not rescinded admissions decisions for students exercising their right to peaceful advocacy or protesting.”

The weeks following the Parkland shooting have also raised questions about school preparedness and whether or not schools should do more to protect against potential shootings. One proposal calls for schools to pay more for more “highly-trained” and armed teachers. President Donald Trump is among those who have proposed the idea.

University Deputy Chief of Police Joshua Sticht said he doesn’t think arming teachers is a solution.

“The fact that someone has a concealed-carry pistol permit in no way indicates they are such a good shot that they are going to be able to go out and safely engage an active shooter,” Sticht said.

Allowing teachers to carry firearms would create confusion in identifying the shooter, which would create a “strong possibility” of a teacher being shot accidentally, Sticht said. It’s better for teachers to provide leadership to students on how to stay safe during a shooting rather than engage the shooter, according to Sticht.

Currently, New York state law permits only university police officers or officers from another agency working with UPD to have firearms on campus. It also prevents concealed carry permits from applying on campus which helps UPD from an “enforcement angle,” Sticht said.

In August 2016, Texas passed what is called the Campus Carry Law, allowing permit-holders to carry a concealed handgun on school grounds and in university buildings.

Sticht said a similar law is unlikely to happen in New York State because of its strict gun laws.

“If we come across someone with a gun, we are arresting them then and there for that,” Sticht said. “Even if they have a legal permit, once they cross the road and come onto campus, they are committing a crime.”

UPD has bolt cutters, body armor and battering rams in the event of a shooting. UPD officers train under experts to learn from previous shootings at the New York State Preparedness Training Center operated by Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

Sticht said the most important thing students can do to keep themselves safe from school shootings is to sign up for UB Alerts on their phones, be aware of exits and to tell somebody if they see concerning behavior. Prevention is as important as response training when it comes to school shootings, he said.

Part of UB’s prevention effort involves a committee to identify students who might be in danger of a mental-health crisis. The Students of Concern Team acts as a central body to connect departments such as Campus Living, University Police and Student Health Services.

“The pressures on college students now are just a lot harder to deal with,” Sticht said. “So we want to make sure we provide support to those students that are getting stressed out by what’s happening. Not to just protect the whole community, but to help them.”

UPD will hold active-shooter training sessions Wednesday from noon to 12:45 p.m. and Friday 3:30-4:15 p.m. in 330 Student Union.

The university treats shootings among its top emergency priorities, said Jay Roorbach, UB’s senior emergency planning coordinator.

Evacuation and accurate communication are the most important things during a shooting, according to Roorbach.

“Especially if we are talking about an active shooter situation, if there is a piece of information out there that’s incorrect and pushes people to an area where they might be in danger, [that could] propagate the potential of people getting in harm’s way,” Roorbach said.

He said the current communication system using UB Alerts works well, but he is always looking for ways to improve it.

Sarah Crowley contributed reporting.

Haruka Kosugi is an assistant news editor and can be reached at haruka.kosugi@ubspectrum.com and @KosugiSpec.