Class of 2016
“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” This line from the Wizard of Oz has been embedded in our cultural landscape since the cinematic classic was released over 75 years ago. It also inspires what is to me should be our biggest takeway from the aftermath of Monday and Tuesday night’s distressing events: We’re not in Brookland anymore.
Technically, of course, we remain in Northeast DC. And our placement in this neighborhood still presents its own growing dangers for students. But the threats posed to our campus are no longer just about thugs in Brookland. They’re about something much more real and much more concerning. Some might say I’m overreacting or causing unnecessary fear. To them I would simply point out two things. Firstly, the timeline of events over the past month, which to me speaks for itself. Terrorists killed 130 people in the Paris attacks, then immediately issued threats of a similar attack against DC. Then this week two campus emergencies prompted by two different suspects, the first of whom was carrying a gun, warned about a bomb on campus, and declared his allegiance to ISIS, were declared two days in a row.
Secondly, and far more concerning in my view, was the response of the administration. I was in Leahy Hall working on a paper Tuesday night when a DPS officer walked in, announced the second emergency, ordered us not to leave, then left without giving any more information or direction. During the next hour, despite being 20 feet from DPS headquarters, I got all of my updates from friends on the outside. As increasingly concerning information trickled in – three helicopters were circling overhead, two surrounding streets were completely blocked off, the library had been evacuated – it became clear to me this was not a shooter situation. I quickly concluded that Leahy Hall , the location of the offices of a large number of high ranking administration officials, the headquarters of campus police, the building that Monday’s suspect asked direction to, and that is open 24/7 to the public, was not a place to stay. My friend who had been evacuated from the library picked me up and drove me to his apartment off-campus.
As he and others who saw me that night can attest the effect of the ordeal was apparent on me; I was cold, fidgety and shaking until the early hours of the next morning. I say this not to exaggerate my experience or to engender sympathy but to show just how serious of a situation this was. I grew up in the DC suburbs with a Dad who was working in DC on 9/11 and who was deployed to Iraq. I remember having recess inside for several months when I was in 2nd grade because a pair of terrorists were killing people in the DC area, including at a mall a half mile from my school. I remember when a 4 year old girl was killed in the neighborhood adjacent to my high school during my freshman year. Violence and terrorism are not abstract or new issues for me, as, sadly, they aren’t for many others at CUA. But this week I was scared, as we all were, watching the spectre of violence and potential terror extremism suddenly spill onto a campus I believed was still somewhat of an island of security.
But that is not the what scared me the most. What kept me awake for the better part of Monday and Tuesday night, what makes me worry about the future, what inspired me to write this piece, is the abjectly incompetent conduct of the administration. From the two hour gaps between reporting of the suspects and the issuing of the ‘Shelter in Place’ alerts to the incorrect assertion, inadvertent or intentional (neither of which is acceptable), by the administration that evacuations had not taken place; from the neglect of important details about the Monday suspect (who remains at large) to the lack of information sharing with Monroe St. Market management and security officers, one of whom told me he knew nothing more than I did about the on-campus situation; from the administration’s most recent assertion that the second suspect, whose presence on campus prompted the aforementioned three helicopters to fly over campus, was in fact a student to the administration’s decision to treat this unprecedented and traumatic situation like a snowstorm by delaying class three hours Wednesday morning. By every indication our university’s administration failed us this week. We should all take a hard, long look at our level of preparedness for threats in the future: while we may not like what we see, we may not have the luxury to look in the future if we don’t now.