Just as the Rider community was starting to heal from the tragic loss of one of our own, Gary DeVercelly, news of the horrific mass murder at Virginia Tech hit like a sucker punch. As fellow college students, we grieve with the families, friends, peers and colleagues who lost 32 loved ones. From one college community to another, our thoughts and prayers are speeding toward Virginia Tech.
The shock and pure disbelief that resonate from this incident make it even harder to come to grips with. As ordinary human beings with emotion and a sense of compassion, it is hard to understand how one individual is capable of inflicting so much pain and devastation.
While losing someone is never easy, the deaths of the many students at Virginia Tech and the one right here at Rider are particularly hard to bear. Our country lost young students working to attain a college education who were ripe with untapped potential. Also lost were professors and faculty trying to instill their knowledge into the next generation of leaders, engineers and scientists. Sadly, even a survivor of the Holocaust died as a hero in the Virginia Tech massacre. Though Rider is hundreds of miles from Virginia Tech, it is easy to put ourselves into Hokies’ shoes and feel their extreme pain.
In light of this, students should take comfort in the fact that Rider has a comprehensive Emergency Response Plan. In the event there is violent and/or criminal behavior, a downed aircraft on campus, a natural gas pipeline leak, an earthquake or other severe weather conditions, or even utility loss, Rider has a plan of action. Currently, faculty, professors and administrators only need to look in the back of the Campus Directory for the emergency procedures. Residence directors and resident advisors have also been briefed on how to react in any number of given situations that could occur.
Be that as it may, Rider must take safety and protection to the next level. An incident up the road at The Lawrenceville School on Wednesday, April 18 — carelessly reported by media outlets to have occurred on Rider’s Lawrenceville campus — demonstrated the speed with which false information and anxiety can spread. In minutes, many students learned the “news” when friends or family called from off campus. Even though fast work by administrators stopped the flow of falsehoods, there were long minutes when no one knew what to do – or even whom to ask. In a real crisis, it would have been much worse. Having a text message alert system that would notify the campus community such as e2campus, offered by Omnilert, is essential to avoid the circulation of rumors that existed for a short amount of time on Wednesday. On that day, the elevator in Fine Arts happened to be broken. The Emergency Response Plan must ensure that all students, including wheelchair-bound individuals, can evacuate safely from campus buildings.
At the same time, students also need to have an acute awareness of what is expected of them in case of an emergency. To make this information readily available for students and the entire University, a more detailed emergency plan should be included in future publications of The Source and on the main Web site. In order for the plan to work during a crisis, having a well-informed community is an absolute necessity. Although the case may be argued that revealing the plan will leave us vulnerable to some potential threat, an edited version that does not contain every intricate detail should be released.
While re-evaluating our Emergency Response Plan and preparedness is a crucial step in preventing a situation like the one at Virginia Tech from occurring here, one has to consider the other source wreaking havoc on so many lives — guns. Unless you are a member of law enforcement or a hunter with a licensed firearm then there is no credible reason for having a gun. A rash of school shootings in the late 1990s, including Columbine High School, demonstrates how lives are destroyed by guns time and time again. In a country with 250 million privately owned guns, about 30,000 people die each year from gun wounds by murder, suicide or accident. Isn’t it time we counteract the high-powered and financed pro-gun lobbying interest groups impeding efforts for gun control legislation? Together we can all start a movement that brings about a safer environment in our neighborhoods, schools and nation.
This weekly editorial expresses the majority opinion of The Rider News editorial board and is written by the Opinion Editor, Jamie Papapetros.