ASHEVILLE — After an active shooter training exercise that students say went wrong at UNC Asheville last week, the school is investigating, the administration is halting future training, and the dean of students concedes a “blind spot on how young people experience traumatic situations.
On September 20, training at Highsmith’s Student Union involved an exercise in which students had to run and hide from a mock shooter, as previously reported by the blue bannerthe school’s student newspaper.
The students then characterized the incident in an open forum – filmed by blue banner – as “traumatic”. They said they weren’t given enough warning of what would happen during the training, which included depictions of violence. As a result, the students contacted the administration, according to Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Meghan Harte Weyant.
“We were alerted by concerned students to an active-fire readiness training program that took place Tuesday night with employed students,” Weyant said. “We are doing a full review of the program story and the evening’s event.”
Banner editor Jemima Malote also reported that students saw footage from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shoot in 2018 and photos from the UNC Charlotte shoot in 2019.
The training was optional and students were allowed to leave, but in a public conversation with the administration on September 22, some people involved said they did not feel allowed to leave because the training had been described to them. as “mandatory”. They also alleged that communication about the training was very unclear before and after the incident.
The meeting, during which the ALICE Training active shooter response program was used, was led by Emergency Management Director David Weldon. At one point during the training, the students said they were running and a fake gun was used.
“Active shooter readiness training was established eight years ago by UNC Asheville Emergency Management,” Weyant said. “The goal is to prepare members of the campus community with actionable measures in the worst-case scenario.”
The training event was part of what Weyant described as a long-term preparation program. Active fire preparation courses are held regularly, she added.
But those classes are on hold after students raised concerns and called for better communication and oversight.
“The active shooter readiness training program has been put on hold, pending further review which includes an in-depth study of the program’s history and a thorough investigation into what transpired on Tuesday,” Weyant said. “More immediately, University staff members reached out to student employees to hear their concerns and provide any support needed. We hope to fully understand the events that have unfolded so that we can take appropriate action for the care and well-being of our entire University community.
“You lit up an incredible blind spot”
Part of this effort to “reach out” unfolded at a student forum on September 22, where new Highsmith student union director Jessica Inman and acting dean of students Megan Pugh , spoke directly with the students, many of whom expressed frustration with the incident itself and how it was being handled.
“Personally, I am absolutely appalled by the action that took place on September 20, but also by the inaction that followed,” one student told the forum. “As a Gen Z student, there hasn’t been a year in my school life that I haven’t practiced an active fire drill.”
Students argued at the forum that the insensitivity of the training itself and the lack of response afterwards were both problematic.
They also called for Weldon’s firing, noting that they did not know the meeting was ALICE Training and believed it was simply an extension of standard emergency training.
ALICE is an acronym for Alert, Lock, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. The program is a popular program intended to “enhance survivability” in active fire situations. It’s also controversial.
“To insist that a type of training that has been under intense scrutiny for years because of its effects – traumatizing people rather than educational – be mandatory…is immoral,” one student told Inman and Pugh at the forum.
“Right now a member of the student affairs initiative team is doing what we call an investigation,” said Pugh, who was also asked if she and Inman would condemn the actions of those involved in the planning. of the September 20 training. “I don’t think I can condemn anything. What I…will say is…you brought to light an incredible blind spot, not only for me, but for my colleagues in terms of how we approached teaching this information.
The “blind spot” comments, Pugh said, were personal reflections on the situation. “It never even occurred to me that all of you who come to UNC Asheville or have been here for a few years have a totally different relationship with active shooter training, active shooter training, active shooters as a whole, to those experiences that I don’t have.
Pugh said she didn’t want to condemn something she hadn’t seen with her own eyes, but said the students’ reaction to the situation gave her “a clear path” to deal with the situation. .
For the administration, the way forward is to reach out to students, but also to bolster its active shooter training initiative.
“We take the safety and well-being of our students and the campus community very seriously,” Weyant said. “As a learning community, we look forward to considering ways to support our students and strengthen this program in the future.”
Andrew Jones is an investigative reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at @arjonesreports on Facebook and Twitter, 828-226-6203 or [email protected]. Please help support this kind of journalism with a subscription at the Citizen Times.