Letter to the Editor: A letter to Chancellor DiStefano from a student in the UMC incident

Editor’s note: This letter has been edited to adhere to the CU Independent’s grammar and mechanics standards. Some clarifications have been made in accordance with the writer.

Dear Chancellor DiStefano,

I had a gun pointed at my head on Wednesday, Oct. 5.

I am a senior international affairs major and a Colorado native. I spend at minimum 60 hours per week on campus using its facilities, working and attending class. I worked in the Norlin Library from January 2015 until August 2015 as a Student Security Assistant. I know all of the security loopholes of the library and I know human error is unavoidable.

Because I held this position for a number of months and because I stay up to date on the events of the country, when beginning my final year at CU Boulder, I did not feel as safe as I used to. Of course, the faculty of CU cannot control who enters and exits the campus, nor can they control gun violence. This is a phenomenon plaguing each university in the nation. When an unfortunate incident occurs, however, universities are equipped with response mechanisms made to minimize damage and deescalate the situation with little delay. After the events of Oct. 5, I do not have confidence in the university’s response mechanisms.  

The procedures that ran their course in the event were unacceptable, and frankly, we are lucky the threat in the University Memorial Center was not real. There was a lack of communication between the police force and the university. There were contradictory messages coming from different sources. CU posted a tweet at 1:14 p.m. that the threat was false and the UMC was “all clear,” and then published an article the next day saying that the “all clear” was given after CU police had searched the entire building. The university then sent an alert at about 1:40 p.m. saying the threat was “unconfirmed,” and then sent a second and final “all clear” alert and tweet at about 2:05 p.m.

When CU sent the 1:14 p.m tweet declaring the inital “all clear,” I was hiding behind a couch on the fourth floor of the UMC with three others in a room that had not yet been searched. Any one of us could have been a shooter, or we could have proceeded to leave the room thinking everything was fine, putting ourselves in danger both with the police or the shooter. At 1:51 p.m. there was, inexcusably, a lack of information on the CU Emergency Information Line — 46 minutes after the incident began, the line was still reporting on the previous armed-man incident four hours earlier that day.

The police also caused unnecessary confusion and fear when clearing the rooms where people were on lockdown. They failed to warn the people that they were evacuating the building. The police entered each room with large guns not normally seen on campus, screaming “hands up” and inducing fear and hysteria. I am grateful there was no real shooter at the UMC. However, the university was a risk to itself. The poor communication and confusing notifications induced a safety risk instead of containing it.

Not only was the response to this incident flawed and inadequate, but the follow-up statements were offensive to those affected on Oct. 5. During the press conference at 4 p.m. on the day of the incident, you congratulated emergency personnel, both affiliated with CU and otherwise, on a swift and calm response. You expressed that your thoughts and prayers went out to those affected, but there was no apology about the miscommunications and overall poor response. Also in the press release and news following the incident, the police, including CU Boulder Police Department Chief Melissa Zak, tried to blame it on the crowds of people saying they evacuated themselves and hence caused chaos.

However, there are many testimonials saying the police were commanding people to leave the building. I was not on the UMC first floor at 1:05 p.m., but according to news sources and other students I have reached out to, the police commenced the evacuation and did it in a very chaotic way. The police entered the building running and yelling for everyone to exit the UMC immediately. There was no reminder to stay calm, no instructions or information, just “get out.” This is a clear form of victim-blaming. Additionally, if the police felt the need to be armed with protective gear and AR 15s, firstly, they should evacuate the building and secondly, they should expect the sight of these weapons would cause chaos and confusion.

While I am happy I am physically unharmed after the event, the university put me in more physical danger than they succeeded in protecting me from. Therefore, I cannot call the handling of this event, both during and afterward, a success. The university owes the students and faculty a more transparent statement regarding the response to the event. Additionally, I am asking for a retraction of the statement that the response was quick and well-executed, and in its place, an apology for the extreme fear some of us felt on Oct. 5.

Erin Autumn Neale

You can read about the UMC incident here

CU Independent

The CU Independent, or CUI for short, is the student news outlet for the University of Colorado at Boulder. We cover news, sports, politics, opinion, arts and entertainment and more. Our mission is to provide news and commentary that's for students and by students — about the things we care about.

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