Student petition demands NU reform emergency protocols in wake of Evanston shooting


Illustration by Alex Perry

The petition, which was sent to NU’s administration about 1:45 a.m. Thursday, criticizes the lack of University communication with the student body within the first hour after shots were fired on Wednesday at Clark Street Beach.

Pavan Acharya and Russell Leung

Content warning: This story contains mentions of gun violence and death.

About an hour after the first unofficial reports of gunshots came out on Wednesday, Weinberg junior Lily Cohen drafted and released a petition calling on the University to reevaluate its emergency alert system.

The Evanston Police Department responded to shots fired at Clark Street Beach, just south of NU’s Evanston campus, at about 8:10 p.m. Wednesday. More than 30 minutes later, NU released its first statement about the shooting on Twitter at 8:42 p.m., ordering community members to shelter in place.

Two 15-year-old boys were injured in the shooting, and an 18-year-old died.

“I wrote the letter to express my frustration that it took the university 35 minutes to alert students in the first place,” Cohen said in a text to The Daily. “It was scary not having any information and we didn’t understand why so many students seemed to know about it for over a half hour before the school sent the first shelter-in-place alert.”

She sent the petition to the NU administration around 1:45 a.m. Thursday morning. More than 900 students have signed the petition as of early Friday morning. However, some students have criticized the petition for failing to mention the victims of the shooting.

Cohen said she wants to see the University implement an action plan detailing how NU will increase the speed of alerts sent to students in emergency situations. She also wants the plan to outline how the University will advise faculty and staff to handle future lockdowns.

SDA is hosting a rally Friday at 11 a.m. at The Rock. According to an SDA poster, attendees will rally for gun violence prevention and call for reforms to NU’s security response measures.

In a statement sent to members of the NU community Thursday, University President Michael Schill said he has received messages “expressing frustration” with the amount of time NU took to inform community members about the shooting. 

He said members of NU’s leadership team will review the University’s Wednesday night response and phone communication error. NU sent out an automated phone message to community members during the shelter-in-place period that said, “University Police are responding to a report of a blank on the Evanston Campus at blank.” 

SESP junior Donovan Cusick and McCormick junior Molly Whalen, co-presidential candidates for Associated Student Government, said in a joint text to The Daily that they plan to help the administration implement feedback about its response to the shooting. Whalen signed the petition. 

“(The letter) was very effective as the admin emails sent today show they agree with the petition’s message,” the two said. “The response time was unacceptable and needs to be improved.” 

Weinberg sophomore Lauren Escudero, who also signed the petition, said Schill’s statement felt like a “PR-generated response.”

“It doesn’t sound like they really actually care about the students,” Escudero said. “It’s more like, ‘What can we write here that doesn’t get us in trouble?’”

Some students have criticized the petition for failing to make realistic demands of the University. Weinberg freshman Ciera Cravens said though she agreed with “the sentiment” of the petition, she believes Schill’s Thursday email addressed many of its concerns. 

Weinberg sophomore Tara Chen had signed and reposted the petition on social media shortly after they heard about the shooting on Wednesday. However, upon rereading the petition Thursday morning, they said they realized the petition did not make specific enough demands of the University.

“It can’t just be like, ‘Northwestern, you need to do better,’” they said.

Chen said they plan to remove their name from the petition.

They added on-campus reactions to the shooting were emblematic of the divide that exists between NU and Evanston, and criticized the petition for not mentioning the victims of the shooting.

“Gun violence in (Evanston) matters just as much as if a shooting occurred within our campus,” Chen said.

Cohen said the victims should “absolutely” be recognized, but said the primary purpose of her letter was to condemn NU’s “broken” reaction to the incident.

“I really didn’t expect the letter to get as many signatures as it did,” Cohen said. “While I completely understand concerns about the contents of it, it was fully intended to reflect my personal frustrations with the university response specifically and maybe the frustrations of other students around campus as well.”

Alex Perry contributed reporting.

Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify that Lily Cohen independently created the emergency alert petition.

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