A Student Perspective on The Utica College Lock Down By Peter Gaughan
Safe but shaken is what “just a threat” can do to a campus. We may remain physically unscathed and safe, but we are psychologically violated and shaken to our core. I will try to explain my experience inside of “just a threat” but by no means speak for the entire student body.
These were the words of comfort I could muster after the March 5th lock down at Utica College:
Every student reacted dramatically differently to what ended up being a six-hour lock down where students spent several hours hiding in a classroom and another several in safe zones as campus was swept by law enforcement.
When locked down in class, some of us were up against walls, ducking behind tables on their side, with the lights off. Classmates helped professors barricade doors with tables and chairs, close blinds, and whatever else we could do to create some vague sense of security. Some of us, while hiding, even attempted humor with varying success to keep ourselves from falling too deep into the black hole of rumors and “what ifs” circulating.
We were updated fairly regularly by the campus alert system, but naturally there was still a lot of unknown. With social media, and students this stressed and scared about not knowing what’s happening outside of our barricaded doors. I sat in the dark reading and hearing multiple and conflicting stories. One included the shooter being in the academic wing across from me, and I had friends in that wing, so when I was told their lives were threatened, I struggled to rationally deny it.
The sitting and waiting was torturous. My phone became an extension of my arm- texting family, snapchatting friends, emailing professors, looking up what the media was saying, hoping for a safe outcome, hunting for any report of injury, arrest, or morbidly death.
The waiting got so bad students took some extreme measures, peeing in water bottles or buckets. Had I had a water bottle I probably would’ve done so too. Some tried to do homework. I attempted to with little success. Some slept while others cried. Professors seemed to have a similarly diverse range of reactions.
My friend and I got so stir crazy we put together a scheme about what we would do if the shooter came into the room. This involved rushing him with a large podium that had wheels, knocking him on his feet, and then I’d go for the gun, while my wrestling champion friend would subdue the shooter.
Eventually reports of evacuations began, which coincided with confirmations of no injury. Still, no weapon or shooter was found. Awaiting evacuation was somehow worse than the initial wait, though maybe that’s because of how bad I needed to go to the bathroom. The fear wasn’t gone with law enforcement’s arrival though.
I am so incredibly grateful for all of law enforcement and believe that response to the crisis was professional, prompt, and powerful. The agents still intimidated my class after they literally kicked in the door, knocking over a table and nearly taking out my professor, and then with guns drawn, told us to put our hands up. Next, they had us move our bags to the front so they could search them.
Each student walked single-file, escorted through campus, hands in the air the whole time. In the safe zone, I used the bathroom and reconnected with friends. We were fed (for free) and waited more. The mood lightened, though the anxiety was not gone.
Questions swirled. Who did it? Was he arrested? Are we safe? How much longer are we waiting? Some were more esoteric. Why does this keep happening? How do we prevent this? Can we stop these threats and shootings?
Around 5:30 PM residential students, the last to be released, were allowed to return to their residence halls. Back at the room we were at a loss for what to do. My roommate and I did some homework, not the most high-quality work.
Multiple people went home and fewer have come back. That night my friends and I walked to the library to pick up friend because her work shift was over and none of us wanted to walk alone on campus.
The next day most of my peers and I went back to class. Others took a mental health day to feel better. Some definitely still needed another one or few mental health days. An arrest was made. This comforts some but concerns others. We now know he was a student and that he was on campus at the time of event.
Still our community is safe, shaken but safe. I am eternally thankful that we were not the next Parkland. After the stress of Monday I can’t begin to understand the horror and anxiety they must have felt. I want to reaffirm my support and solidarity with our peers in Parkland and across the country, the students, and their cause.
UC is a strong, loving community and while we are certainly shaken, our love for each other will move us through this horror, each in their own time.
Peter J. Gaughan V is a research assistant at The Utica College Center of Public Affairs and Election Research and student of government and geoscience.