Common Sense Can’t be Digitized: My Students’ Thoughts on the #ccsulockdown

Earlier this week, my campus was under lockdown because of reports of a shooter on campus.  Fortunately, it turned out to be just a student coming back from a long weekend of partying at the flagship campus to the northeast of us still wearing his Snake Eyes costume, which included an air pistol that looked like an automatic handgun. My university has an emergency notification system (ENS) that blares sirens and sends out automated phone class and emails.  I was at a medical appointment off-campus while this was going on so my experience of the event came through these messages, as well as the local news and my colleagues updates on Facebook and Twitter. Since the suspect is African, some of my colleagues were concerned that this was an incident of racial profiling. Others think that the campus and New Britain police overreacted and this is a sign of our security state out of control (“Giuliani time at CCSU” is how one colleague put it).  Many are understandably infuriated that one student’s poor judgment caused three hours of terror and shut the campus down for the remainder of the day and evening.  All of us are glad that no one was injured or killed.

During my undergraduate digital history class this afternoon, I ditched the scheduled readings in favor of a discussion of this incident and how it relates to what we’re learning about digital communications. Here’s a summary of their comments:

When the sirens went off, many students didn’t know what they were for.  Others couldn’t hear them because they were in basement classrooms or other locations that were out of range.

Some faculty seemed unprepared as to what to do.  One professor answered a knock on the classroom door without checking to see who it was (the custodian as it turned out), Another left his classroom to go teach another class (which wasn’t there because everyone was under lockdown!).

There were no telephone calls or emails from the ENS until half an hour into the lockdown.  One student arrived on campus after the lockdown was announced, parked his car, and started to walk to class before he found out what was going on.  Yes, that’s right, no one was blocking off the campus at least initially.

Since there was little if any information from the ENS except “still under lockdown,” students turned to social media for news, some of which turned out to be rumor or hearsay.  This contributed to what one student called a “collective hysteria.”

On the other hand, students who knew the suspect say his photo on the local news and sent emails to security saying “that’s a Halloween costume.”

The all clear message wasn’t released until half an hour after the announcement that the suspect was in custody.

The press conference and interviews with students on the local news generally made the university look bad.

So, this is a small sample of 15 students.  The general impression I got from them is that some faculty were unprepared, there seemed to be no standard operating procedure for dealing with the emergency, and the erratic and uneven distribution of information as the event was unfolding was frustrating.  Some students said they don’t feel safe. They suggested that faculty and staff be trained in disaster protocols similar to that provided in public schools.

When I asked my students if perhaps there was a digital solution to this, one student replied, “common sense can’t be digitized” i.e. there is no digital solution. Good observation!

I then asked if we should put together a digital archive of memories of the CCSU lockdown (similar to the one for the Virginia Tech shooting).  Some of them said yes.

Readers — what do you think?  Is this an event worth documenting?  If so, where should we host our memory bank?

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