In the wake of an active shooter threat on the SUNY Oneonta campus Wednesday, thousands have signed petitions criticizing the administration’s response.
“I am so sorry that we suffered the threat of violence on our campus,” SUNY Oneonta president Barbara Jean Morris said in a Wednesday night email addressed to students. “Unlike other events around the country, I am thankful that what transpired here presented no real danger. However, it has shown us our vulnerabilities.” The letter continued, “Now, we will work on ways to improve. This will be important work.”
An investigation determined the threat did not originate in Oneonta and was not made by a student at the college, according to police.
Brooke Decker, a second-year student from Long Island, started a petition Wednesday night urging the college to cancel classes the following day to give her and her fellow students “a day to recover from this traumatic event.”
“I really thought a lot of us needed today to process what happened,” Decker said. “I know I would not have been able to sit in a classroom without feeling anxious and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to concentrate.”
Despite the petition garnering more than 5,000 signatures within four hours, classes were held as scheduled, Decker said. A few professors canceled classes of their own accord, while others made accommodations for students affected by the incident.
“I emailed my professors and they both decided not to cancel, but said that they would not take attendance,” she said. “Both of my professors for the day were very understanding, and one of them offered to make the class period a time for any students to talk to him about what happened.”
Even the thought of leaving her room was terrifying, Decker said. “I only left my room to get breakfast, but even then I felt really uneasy.”
Decker said she was in her room with her boyfriend when she got the shelter-in-place advisory.
“My boyfriend put some furniture in front of my door and turned the lights off,” she said. “We sat on the floor while I talked to my mom.”
Her mother was “relatively calm” on the phone, Decker said, but “ended up leaving work about 10 minutes later because she couldn’t focus.”
“There are no words to describe how I felt,” the mother, Kara Decker, said. “This is a parent’s worst fear and I’ve never experienced that feeling before. It was horrifying.”
Decker said she also checked on her sister and two cousins, who also attend the college. Her sister was at her off-campus house at the time of the incident.
“My sister was a little freaked out because I was crying when I called her, but she was at her house off campus,” she said. “My one cousin was in class and said that the professor was teaching like nothing happened, and my other cousin was in his room.”
Chrystal Savage, a fourth-year student from Delhi, said she was sitting in her English capstone seminar in Fitzelle Hall when the student next to her showed her the campus alert.
“Our professor didn’t even have time to react before I got up and locked the door,” she said.
Another student turned off the lights, and the students started moving their things to the far corner of the room, Savage said.
As part of a generation raised in the aftermath of Columbine, Savage said she and her classmates react to threats of an active shooter almost instinctively.
Since 2016, New York state has required every school district to conduct a minimum of four lockdown drills per year, but colleges and universities are not held to the same standard.
Savage launched a petition urging administrators to require active shooter training and install locks on every classroom door.
“Professors were vastly uneducated and under-prepared, and in some instances, even told their students to run,” Savage wrote in a Change.org petition launched Thursday afternoon.
“Students were denied refuge in cafes and other so-called ‘safe spaces’ on campus, and others were trapped outside after being let off city transportation on campus,” the petition claimed.
Sitting with her classmates, Savage said she and others were on the phone with University Police and Oneonta Police, who gave the “all-clear” after about 45 minutes.
Students started to exit the building when the emergency alarm on top of the library sounded, she said.
“People were screaming and running — nobody knew what was happening,” Savage said. “It was almost more horrible than it was before, because we were all out in the open.”
The students later learned the alarm signaled the end of the shelter-in-place order, but Savage said there was no way to know at the time.
“More or less, students want a little more genuine care and compassion for their lives, for their security, and for their safety when they are the financial reason that you have yours,” she wrote in the petition.
The last line reads “this is a human life, not a disposable 100K” — an approximation of each student’s bill for four years of tuition, room and board, Savage said. “I feel like the amount of money we’re putting in isn’t what we’re getting out.”
Savage also said the college failed to communicate with students throughout the incident. Students may opt out of the college’s emergency updates, she said, so not everyone was immediately aware of the shelter-in-place advisory.
“Oneonta has said what the story is, but they never addressed the rumors,” Savage said. “For an hour, we thought all these horrible things were true.”
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.