Sandy: When we need the University, we only have each other

Micah Sandy, Opinion Editor

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

“Time is of the essence” is a familiar phrase. But, on Wednesday night, those words seemed downright foreign to Northwestern administration.

We now know that police responded to gunshots — which resulted in the death of one teen and injury of two others — at Clark Street Beach at approximately 8:10 p.m. But it would take the University more than half an hour to alert students to the  gunshots in the first place. 

By word of mouth, most students began to gather that last night wasn’t a normal one. I can only speak of my own experience, but it only takes some quick online scrolling to make it clear that our student body’s group chats, social media platforms and camaraderie were how the news reached most students. It’s clear I wasn’t alone. 

When I work on anything Daily-related, I tend to get lost in focus and sometimes forget my cellphone exists – something both positive and negative. In this case, it meant I learned of gunshots that I thought were coming from the Lakefill from overhearing my fellow Daily staffers discussing the situation. 

While last night showed that we Wildcats are truly there for each other, it made it clear that the University isn’t. Throughout the sounds of gunshots and screams, our University stayed silent.

At around 8:10 p.m., students across campus heard gunshots. 

More than 30 minutes later, at 8:42, the University tweeted we should shelter in place. An email with the same information followed a minute later, at 8:43 p.m. 

A text instructed us to “continue” sheltering in place at 8:53 p.m.

More than 30 minutes passed between the approximate time students first heard gunshots and the University’s first alert, a tweet. That’s unacceptable.

According to the Department of Safety & Security’s website, members of the NU community should expect to receive messages titled “AlertNU” should there be any emergency that requires immediate steps. AlertNU messages fall under the University’s Emergency Notification System, which “disseminates timely information to the campus community in the event of a crisis affecting the University.”

Judged by last night’s response, this is a complete lie. 

The unfortunate reality of life in the United States has conditioned us to question any loud noise remotely close to that of a gunshot. Living in the U.S. means living with the fear of mass shootings, an all too common occurrence that makes “run, hide, fight” part of school lesson plans nationwide. 

The University may not be able to fix a systemic, national issue, but it can do the bare minimum to keep its students safe. We need to be able to trust our university to send instructions to take shelter in a quicker manner. I’ve always thought at the very least I would be alerted if any type of emergency were to occur, especially with the number of University resources to ensure such measures. Last night made for a broken promise put on display for everyone to see. 

Social media is a choice – and a difficult one for many people, with cleanses and temporary breaks serving as a way for people to ensure their mental health is in good standing. What do people without social media do when there’s an active threat? What do the people who aren’t in group chats with people in close proximity do? While it might seem like common sense to seek shelter in the event of gunshots, not everyone heard them. The suspects fled north after the shots were heard. We students, regardless of how we stay connected, need timely notification of the type of event we’re facing and proper instructions on how to proceed in order to avoid unnecessary panic and ensure our safety. 

Every second counts when there’s a shooter. Past tragedies have taught us that in ways we hope we never experience. Had last night involved a shooter actively roaming campus, as some may have believed due to the lack of official communication and rumors swirling, 30 minutes would have a worse meaning. We all hope we never face that situation at NU, but last night showed us that we would be utterly unprepared.

NU’s emergency notification system, aside from texts and emails, also includes phone calls. I received a phone call from “Northwestern Un” at 9:41 p.m. – though I know some who got it earlier and some who were called even later – and picked up despite my hesitation, only to hear that University police were responding to reports of “blank on the Evanston campus at blank” and to “avoid the area and await further info.” 

It isn’t reasonable to expect trust in “further information” from a system with its first emergency phone call sent more than an hour after gunshots, much less in one that can’t be bothered to properly address an ongoing emergency instead of adhering to what appears to be a one-size-fits-all template.

As the night came to a close and the lockdown order was lifted, we learned from Evanston Police Department Cmdr. Ryan Glew that one of the shooting victims had passed away. The email alerts we received at that time from NU only mentioned two people injured – despite there being a total of three total victims – and they failed to mention a death entirely.

Many of us and our loved ones are grateful for our safety, but our fear is genuine. We are all apprehensive about what the situation could’ve been, and what the next situation could bring.

While there may have not been any red AlertNU messages in our email boxes, the correspondence we did and didn’t receive was unacceptable for a prestigious university claiming to care for our well-being. To say it’s disappointing that the University doesn’t consider our safety during emergencies is an understatement.

We’re instructed to be communicative of our circumstances within our classroom environments, but the University fails to lead by example. When we don’t know there’s an emergency, how can we stay safe?

Micah Sandy is a Medill freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.