By Chelsie Derman and Tristan Weisenbach
Editor-in-Chief and Arts & Entertainment Editor
Tracy Perron, a full-time nursing professor at the College, spent what she thought was a typical Tuesday morning letting students into the doors of Trenton Hall after the College implemented a swipe-access only protocol to enter all buildings on campus. It wasn’t until hours later that she found out the reasoning behind this surprising move.
The night prior, a shooter entered two buildings at Michigan State University where he fired at students hiding within, killing three. After a nights-long manhunt, he was found deceased with a note in his pocket outlining more threats against the public schools located in Ewing, N.J.
As a precaution, the College decided to lock all buildings on campus the next morning on Feb. 14 — but withheld telling the campus community the reason behind it. At first, all students and faculty received a TCNJ Alert at roughly 9:15 a.m., informing about a Ewing threat and the change in building access.
The alert did not mention the Michigan State University shooter, nor the shooter’s connection to two local Ewing Schools. Later that morning, the Ewing Police Department Facebook page revealed the shooter’s Ewing connection in a press release at 9:52 a.m. The College did not notify the campus about this information at the time.
When Perron received the alert, she didn’t think much of it.
“I thought the college was being proactive and making everybody swipe in because of how the gentleman got into the building at that campus,” Perron said. “So I just thought, oh, maybe they're just being proactive for a while… Maybe that's the new norm.”
It wasn’t until two hours later at 11:32 a.m. that the College sent out another alert, clarifying the situation that many individuals, like Perron, were confused about. The alert stated that the College would be lifting the swipe-access requirement and explained that the shooter had “local ties to Ewing,” saying that he had a note in his pocket threatening two local middle schools.
While the College did eventually inform the community about what was going on, during those two early hours, many people on campus did not know what was going on and resumed their day as normal — or as normal as it could be, despite students struggling to get into academic buildings. Many students’ cards did not unlock the doors at several buildings across campus, including Trenton Hall and the Brower Student Center.
This poses several questions — if there had been an active threat to our campus, how would the College handle it? Would professors be prepared? What about communication between administration and the rest of the campus community — how quickly could that happen?
Both students and faculty agree that communication could have been better with administration on that Tuesday.
“I think they could have said something more than just these one line emails,” said Lauren Madden, a full-time education professor. “One of my colleagues said that every time there's a steam outage, you can probably tell me everything anyone ever wants to know about a steam outage on our campus with the amount of information we get.”
The campus community receives emails about steam outages several times a semester, which always includes a specific list of buildings affected.
“I think there's a way to say we can’t disclose all of the details, but a thorough investigation is ongoing, and I think they could have at least given us that,” Madden said.
One of her colleagues, who lives in Pennsylvania, didn’t even know the school sent out alerts on Tuesday to begin with.
“Her students had to tell her that the alerts were out,” Madden said.
About a week after the shooting, Madden talked to several professors during a faculty meeting about their experiences that confusing morning.
“Several said that they had students who didn't come to class and said they were commuters and they felt unsafe coming to campus, so they didn't come,” Madden said. “We don't even have any guidance about what to advise those students, right? We don't even know what to say.”
She explained how one professor taught her students in a locked classroom, and everyone was a little bit on edge. Madden questioned whether her department was adequately preparing students — especially those on track to become future teachers who may deal with threatening situations like this.
“In my department, they're preparing people to go out into schools where this is a threat,” Madden said. “Are we doing things that are developmentally appropriate for children as we do this too? I don't know.”
Unlike in public elementary and secondary schools, the College has not held mandatory outside threat training for years. The only mandatory training that a few professors remembered was held ten years ago — but most did not even remember this.
The Signal discovered an email that was sent to all staff on Sept. 12, 2013 that said that Campus Police held multiple “mandatory workshop[s]” throughout September and October of that year.
Since then, the College has offered voluntary trainings held by Campus Police. However, only faculty have been invited to attend. The Signal has not discovered any trainings offered by Campus Police in the past that have allowed for students to participate.
For example, on July 5, 2022, Chief of Campus Police Timothy Grant sent out an email to professors about voluntary active shooter training sessions that were to be held on July 12 and Aug. 17 — one on Zoom and one in person. According to Grant, 91 people attended the training on July 12. However, this number only represents about five percent of the total staff employed at the College, based on 2019 employment data.
The email specifically invited “all faculty and staff,” but not students. Students have only been invited to attend an upcoming training for the first time after The Signal began investigating the school’s emergency preparedness on Feb. 14.
On March 3, Grant sent out an email to the College community stating that the College will be holding a one-hour, virtual active shooter training session presented by Officer Tyler McGilligan on Wednesday, March 8 at 11 a.m. According to the email, “All students and employees are welcome to attend.”
Sharon Blanton, vice president of operations, said the training sessions cover “creating a plan, knowing your surroundings, receiving and acting on alerts from law enforcement, and other ways to keep the community safe.”
Blanton said students have resources available to them, including the campus police website and an emergency preparedness procedure handbook in all classrooms. She also said that community advisors should be covering emergency preparedness in monthly residence hall meetings. This, however, does not seem to be the case.
The Signal surveyed 25 students at the College, all of whom live in various residence halls on campus, and everyone stated that they do not have monthly meetings about outside threat safety. Many of them expressed their concerns about not having these meetings.
“Anyone can literally come into the dorms because I tap my ID card and the doors open,” said Carol Pena, a junior public health major. “You never know if someone could walk in right behind you because the doors are just wide open.”
A majority of students were also under the impression that campus faculty and staff received at least some mandatory training from the College about active shooter situations and were shocked after learning that there is no training required.
Brian Rossino, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, thought that professors were mandated to have “one or two lessons and maybe an email.” Laxmi Garjera, a junior biomedical engineering major, said that she “would hope enough” training was provided to faculty.
The lack of training worried students, making them feel at risk and lacking protection if an active threat situation were to ever occur.
“If something were to happen in class I feel like, I don’t know, this day there should be at least some training because you never know what could happen,” said Karra Lavden, a freshman mechanical engineering major.
In line with these students’ concerns, many faculty vocalized their lack of training.
“If you're talking about directly in my faculty role, I have not received a lot of training,” said Kellie McKinney, a math professor. “As an adjunct faculty member now, full-time faculty members probably have gone through an active shooter training in a more formalized way — and that is an option as well for adjunct faculty. It's just that I have not had that particular experience.”
McKinney’s thought that full-time faculty receive more active threat training than adjuncts, when in fact they do not, further highlights the lack of awareness that professors have regarding the College’s threat preparedness. Other adjunct professors were also under the same impression.
“It's possible that people who are full time, either full time faculty or full time staff, that they may get different levels of training than people like I do,” said an adjunct music professor who wished to remain anonymous. “It's definitely conceivable whether or not that's the case.”
Faculty, many of whom do not have a deep understanding of the College’s emergency preparedness, shared numerous suggestions that they thought the College could implement to make the campus more safe.
Dr. Nathan Magee, a full-time physics professor, said that he feels some of the classrooms in the science buildings are more exposed compared to others, potentially leading to issues if an active threat were to ever arise.
“We have a lot of classrooms with glass windows and with doors that are usually unlocked,” Magee said. “And so certainly I have thought, and I know other faculty have thought…if there was some active shooter situation or something like that, how would we react? How would students react? How would we best protect ourselves if we are caught in a classroom or an office, and could we quickly lock the doors?”
Magee believed that the College could do more to address some of these concerns by planning more “thoughtfully and a little bit more explicitly than they have so far.”
Lindsay Warren, an adjunct history professor, suggested implementing a more efficient way to lock doors inside buildings. During her interview with The Signal, Warren held up her keychain and went through her nearly-identical keys one-by-one as they clinked together. She tried to find the specific key that locks her current classroom door.
“Which one is it, right? Like there’s one, two, three, four, five, six. And I've given back duplicates over the years,” said Warren. “I've been a professor for over 10 years. I've gotten a lot of different rooms in a lot of different buildings.”
Because there are so many buildings on campus, Olivia Burton, the art department program assistant, suggested implementing building-specific trainings to better inform staff and faculty about what to do in a threat situation.
“For everybody who works in here, what are strategies for everybody who works in Bliss?” Burton said. “Where's the safest place in Bliss to go? Which room? Which doors? Can you lock certain doors? Are there certain safety mechanisms unique to that building that people might not know about, even if they work in there?”
By doing this, Burton feels like staff and faculty would be able to better direct students who may perhaps be unfamiliar with a certain building on where to go and what to do in an emergency.
One of the buildings that may be the most difficult to effectively protect people from a threat in, however, is the Mayo Concert Hall.
“I have a key for the concert hall…but it would take me a long time to run all the way upstairs, and upstairs on the other side, and all around. It would take a long time,” said the anonymous adjunct music professor. “For the concert hall, it seems all manual. I don't think there's anything electric.”
The professor said that it’s “not practical” for them to constantly lock and unlock doors around the concert hall during a rehearsal or a performance, suggesting that a more efficient locking mechanism would be beneficial.
Another disquiet that the professor shared corresponded with the way that the College addressed severe weather events in the past. During the fall 2021 semester, when the College was under tornado warnings as the remnants of Hurricane Ida swept across the region, he did not receive instructions from administration about what to do.
“It was like 7:15, which was 15 minutes before my class time,” the professor said. “I called the Campus Safety and asked them, ‘I have a tornado warning here, in our area, what should we do? I'm supposed to teach a class at 7:30. What's going on?’ And they said, ‘oh, just watch the website, and be safe buddy.’”
Inadequate communication between the College’s administration and the campus community was a worrying factor that many other individuals shared, too.
Karen Dubrule, the program assistant for the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, said that many faculty members in her department expressed at a recent meeting that the communication from the College’s administration about the perceived threats on Feb. 14 could have been more clear.
“Had it been more complete, we felt like students might have felt a little calmer about the situation, but when you don't have that information, it kind of tends to provoke panic and stress and anxiety,” Dubrule said.
In an interview with The Signal, President Kathryn Foster highlighted the difficulty of maintaining a strong level of security on a public campus like the College, but stressed that it’s a top priority to ensure that all students and faculty are fully aware of what they can do to establish a safe campus.
“I mean, it's [a] public institution, members of the community can use this all the time,” Foster said. “We have a lot of access to the campus, so we have to have every individual at the responsible level to know: Here's what I do, here's my role, if you will, here's my responsibility, and make sure…our community is in the best place that it could be.”
To protect the campus, Blanton said the College hired Daniel Posluszny as an emergency preparedness manager. Foster said making trainings mandatory for faculty and staff is also “on the table” as a way to better address campus preparedness. The College is also examining issues related to card-swipe access.
Blanton acknowledged that there were “technical issues with access control” after the College locked all campus buildings on Feb. 14. She stated that there will be an “increase [in] cross-training of employees to manage the system” going forward.
Foster reiterated this, recognizing how important it is that everyone is able to gain access to all campus buildings in the case of an emergency. For example, music students get access to the practice rooms in the music building, but non-music students do not.
“That kind of specificity and really individual tailoring creates another technology change as you might imagine,” Foster said. “I think we're going to have to live with the fact that everyone would have access to spaces if we're going to use those swipe cards, and those swipe cards therefore have to be in good shape where they have to work.”
Locking all the buildings has one flip side though, and Foster posed this question: “Are you locking down a building and then there are people who are dangerous inside the building that you've locked in?”
Because anyone can walk on campus, there will always be the potential for someone dangerous to lurk around. Ultimately, though, Foster believes the campus is safe, despite the fact that no plan is “foolproof.”
“There's no such thing as 100% safe,” Foster said. “So what's that balance between the individual liberties, if you will, that you might have to give up to feel a little safer? So yes we do feel it's safe; we would like to feel more prepared in the event of a tragedy.”
Overall, all members of the campus community expressed feeling some level of safety on campus. Despite various concerns that were brought up, individuals said that they felt no more at risk on campus as they would in other public places, such as “a baseball game” or a “grocery store,” as McKinney said.
“I think in staying vigilant, we shouldn't be paranoid, but we should be thinking about how to keep one another safe and support one another, rather than looking at everyone and being like: Who's [it] going to be?” said Burton. “In this really nerve wracking time, we kind of look at it as more of a community, a community builder, rather than a community divider.”