Back in 1991, I was a high school senior preparing to start college at the University of Iowa. I chose the University of Iowa because it is a good school, in-state tuition was appealing and it was close to home which made me feel safe being so close to my family. Then in November 1991 there was a tragedy on campus. A physics graduate student was angry that he did not receive a prestigious award. He killed three professors, the student who won the award and an administrator. He also paralyzed a student working in the administration office with a gunshot to her spine.
Since then we have seen more tragedies on college campuses, including the Virginia Tech massacre last year and the shooting at Northern Illinois earlier this year. So how can we feel comfortable sending our kids off to college? What are universities doing to keep our kids safe?
After the Virginia Tech killings, many college campuses initiated an electronic alert system. The technology had been around for several years, but universities are often behind on new innovations. However students at Virginia Tech criticized the university for not notifying them of the threat on campus until two hours after the shootings. Because of that criticism many schools decided they needed to do more.
The University of Iowa introduced “Hawk Alert” this year. [They are the Hawkeyes, hence the 'Hawk' Alert.] Students were asked to update their information online to include their home phone, mobile phone and email address. Fortunately they have only had to use the Hawk Alert twice this year and both of those were to notify students of school closings due to weather. When they need to quickly notify students they send out a campus-wide email. The automated system also calls home phones and/or mobile phones. Plus everybody gets a text message on their cell phones. Some of the messages are a little slow, but all-in-all the system works pretty well.
Tonight there was a breaking news story out of Cedar Falls, Iowa. There was a threat on the University of Northern Iowa campus. A student on campus got a threatening cell phone call from her boyfriend. She immediately told her Resident Advisor and within five minutes an announcement went out on the loud speaker telling students to stay in their dorm rooms. All dorms were on lock-down and police arrived on the scene. The UNI Alert was in effect. The automated system sent emails and called students letting them now about the threat. The university website was updated to notify people of the threat. Within three hours the suspect was apprehended two hours away. He never made it to campus, but UNI did a very good job of protecting their students.
Universities and colleges are stepping up to keep kids safe. Tragedies may still happen, but I feel better knowing universities are making safety a top priority. I feel more comfortable sending my kids off to college knowing the school is looking out for them.