“We are all Niners.” Chancellor Dubois sent out a message on July 25, 2019 with those words accompanying a list of campus safety measures, precautions and resources. This was an effort to reassure students and staff of their safety and support since the shooting on April 30, 2019.
On the evening of April 30, Chief of Police Jeff Baker and other CMPD officers arrived on the scene about two minutes after the first call to dispatch. In just a matter of minutes, the campus was on lockdown after a NinerAlert was issued saying, “Run, Hide, Fight.” Emergency Management and communication teams had been in established in case something like this were to happen – the 24/7 Police and Public Safety officials were prepared. The police were in the building within three minutes of the first call and five minutes of what was thought to be the time of the shooting.
While the Police and Public Safety officials were prepared and responded to the event on April 30 promptly, such an occurrence has sparked concern amongst some 49ers and their families. Maribel Rossil-Abascal, a mother of a current student at UNC Charlotte, reached out to the Niner Times over Facebook. She inquired about security on campus, the seeming rise of crime around UNC Charlotte, and the presence of police.
Since the shooting, in addition to Chancellor Dubois’ message on July 25, Vice Chancellor Dr. Kevin Bailey addressed Niner Nation via email requesting feedback on campus safety. Safety concerns were compiled by topic and addressed in an online airing titled “Conversation about Safety, Support, and Services” on Wed. Aug 7. Approximately 120 individuals participated.
With the start of the fall semester underway, Editor-in-Chief Madison Dobrzenski and Assistant Sports Editor Kennedy Hehr sat down with Chancellor Dubois, Chief Baker, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Christine Reed Davis, Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Constituent Relations Betty M. Doster, Director for Issues Management and External Media Relations Buffie Stephens, and Vice Chancellor Dr. Kevin Bailey to inquire about concerns like Rossil-Abascal’s.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Hehr: In response to your message, “We are all Niners,” what are some of the main changes being made around campus for the everyone’s safety?
Dubois: The most important to me was to make ends meet with Chief Baker to make sure we had a visible police presence on campus. I think you saw from the tragedy in Dayton, that while [police presence] didn’t stop it, it certainly minimized the damage or the number of victims. One of the reasons we do our own internal and external review is to understand how we can better respond in the event of a future emergency.
Dobrzenski: So how do you believe that the changes that are listed in this message will make for an overall safer environment on campus? In what particular ways?
Dubois: We were safe before; I think it’s a mistake to believe you can minimize risk to zero. As long as we’re going to be an open campus and an open society, we’ve just had two very good examples (Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas]) of how vulnerable everyone is and that we have to be vigilant about potential dangers. I think we’re a safe campus and we’ve identified things that we hope will make the return to campus in the fall reassuring to students.
Davis: If I can speak to that, I think what we’re trying to do is expand the opportunities for students to improve their knowledge of preparedness. So there are additional opportunities for them to participate in ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training that community and —
Doster: That’s the active shooter training?
Davis: Yes. So we’re opening up more sessions and providing more opportunities for students to engage in that type of education. This is an addition that we’re making to provide that overall access to that knowledge, because what we have learned is that the active assailant training that students get in K-12 is different than what we need in our college campus, so I think that Alice training helps us think differently [and] helps our students prepare for that differently.
Baker: I’d like to say too that last year we delivered 52 sessions of ALICE training, which far exceeded any of the UNC System campuses in outreach to their communities, which, if you think about it, that’s a lot of sessions.
Dubois: There are a couple things in the Leader Communication Guide that we referenced: we purchased metal detectors for all major public events. That includes anything in the SAC involving large groups of people (commencement, convocation and athletic events). We’re also adding rangers to the Light Rail Station on campus. They’re individuals who basically will be the eyes and the ears of the police department, particularly on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Baker: And even though we have rangers, I still have [officers]. If you’re [an officer] not on an assignment, if you’re [an officer] not out on a directed activity, we also direct our officers to go to the LightRail and work on reports or do whatever in their downtime. That’s where I’d like them to work.
Dobrzenski: What is your opinion on the violence at student housing complexes and in the University area?
Dubois: One of the things that is the most common misperception about University City is that it is one of the most dangerous areas in the city. In fact, it is one of the safest. We are the second largest.
With an estimated population of almost 108,000, the land area covers nearly 47 miles. By the statistics of 2017-18 per 1000, the violent crime rate in 2017 was 3.68 and 3.18 in 2018. The property crime rate in 2017 was 36.24 and 34.91 in 2018. The part one crime rate [most serious crimes] was 40.01 in 2017 and 38.09 in 2018. Some of the other divisions such as Central and Metro have nearly a quarter of the population and land size while they more than triple the crime in every category.
Hehr: Have there been a number of withdrawals from UNC Charlotte because of the event on April 30?
Dubois: It’s hard to know.
Davis: Withdrawals of the currently enrolled student body will not show until the fall starts.
Dubois: Although, we lost about 160 students who had submitted their intent to register for the fall. In the immediate days following (April 30), they pulled those back. Now we don’t know for sure if it was caused by the shooting, but you must assume.
Dobrzenski: It was stated in the “We Are All Niners” email that the classroom in Kennedy will not be used, but will the building itself be used during the school year?
Dubois: We do not plan for any classes in the building. There are only two classrooms, one is next door to the shooting scene. The rest are administrative staff offices which will continue to be occupied. We are waiting for the remembrance committee to give us some insight on what to do, but I would be very surprised if we return those to classrooms.
Dobrzenski: What do you recommend for those whose recovery may be taking longer than anticipated? Where can they be directed on or off campus besides CAPS?
Davis: The biggest thing is to go and talk to someone. Compartmentalizing a situation like this only causes more damage. It doesn’t have to be a counselor, talking to anyone about it can help tremendously.
Dobrzenski: Do you believe that whoever becomes the new UNC Charlotte chancellor will keep these new safety precautions and action teams in place?
Dubois: I wouldn’t see why not. The safety of this University is my top priority and I hope the new chancellor would see that the same way.
Hehr: Did the shooting play a role in your decision to retire?
Dubois: I had plans to retire, I just didn’t know when. If anything, it made me stay longer. I wanted to be here for the year anniversary of the tragedy.
With all the improved safety precautions and plans in place, Chancellor Dubois believes UNC Charlotte is prepared for the upcoming school year and there are no signs that a tragedy like April 30 will happen again, although it is important to be prepared for everything. As Dubois enters his last year as the Charlotte Chancellor, his message to all stays the same, “We are all Niners!”