DRI Foundation 2016 Undergrad Scholarship: Read the Winning Essay

2016 Scholarship winner 1Congratulations to Katia Hamamouche, winner of the DRI Foundation’s 2016 Scholarship for undergraduates! Katia was selected in part because of the strength of her essay on preparing for and reacting to campus violence, which you can read here: 

Run! Hide! Fight! These three simple words may be the most important ones spoken to this generation of students-school shootings, suicide bombings, and workplace violence seem to be running rampant in our society and we all need to be prepared to react to such an incident. As a daughter of a parent who spends her life preparing her company’s associates for the man-made and natural disasters, I have always been one to identify emergency exits and memorize airline instruction cards, all while being aware of my surroundings. Unfortunately, I do not represent the majority of students as too many students view these years as freedom, excitement and independence-a time to experience new places, people, and things. No one wants to live in a perpetual state of anxiety, nor does anyone wish to stop fulfilling their dreams to travel the globe. For this reason, it is imperative that the students in my generation know how to respond to a violent attack, how to communicate to others that they are safe, and most importantly how to respond to an active shooter situation. Educators need to be trained to identify warning signs and triggers amongst their students so they can ensure they get the help they need in order to prevent acts of violence. Ultimately, everyone needs to know that if they see something that causes alarm, they need to say something to someone who might be able to help.

Campuses throughout the country have developed a variety of ways to ensure their students’ safety. My campus, for example, is diligent in educating the Resident Assistant staff members on resources readily available to students on campus. First and foremost, an instant alert system pre-populated with student phone numbers and those of their parents is communicated to families prior to the student moving into the dorms.  This, in my opinion, is the single most important tool available to students today. These alerts are used to assist in locating missing persons or to alert students of any violent situation. One route list is used for all students, parents, and college staff to provide directions to anyone who may experience an impact. For example, three years ago a student on our campus went missing-because of this alert system students campus-wide were called together to immediately begin a search and rescue of the campus and surrounding areas. A second route list is used for all Resident Assistants on campus. This list is used in conjunction with our local police and campus security to advise us of potential issues-people who are believed to be harmful to our students. In some instances, we are advised that someone was seen hanging around campus and we are to be on the lookout for this individual and, if seen, we are to report it to Security or the local police department. Additionally, there are telephones, good old fashioned telephones wired into walls, available to use in the event of an emergency should cell towers or cell phone batteries be unavailable during an incident. Finally, we have security ‘blue’ lights on campus that students may use to alert our local Security force. A member of Security will quickly arrive at the location to assist the student in need.

Social media outlets are an essential benefit to my generation as well. During the Paris and Brussels bombings, many students studying in the impacted countries used the Facebook application to quickly communicate to their family, friends, and professors that they were safe and unharmed by the events. As a generation, we are always connected to our phones and our social media accounts. However, even these tools are only a resource if the masses are aware of their existence. For those iPhone users, the Medical ID application is a fantastic way to ensure a witness the ability to communicate with the next of kin as the details are provided and available to passerby’ s whether the phone is unlocked or locked, providing the battery is still intact.

Education on the tools, resources, appropriate manner in which to respond to a violent attack, and proper means to communicate to others is the essential component to keeping our students safe. This education should begin in the lower Elementary schools and needs to be refreshed upon entering college. Most colleges have days or weeks dedicated to all incoming freshmen and transfer students. In my opinion, students should be educated on campus and local security at this point. Bulletin boards, brochures, and guest speakers should be engaged to reinforce these tools and options. As a society, we have done a better job at educating college students on the effects of drunk driving, the laws surrounding drunk driving, and the impacts underage drinking. These campaigns have proven successful on many large college campuses. Incidents of active shooters are being experienced on campuses-small and large, public and private, old and new. Whether students are sitting in their dorm room or listening to a professor’s lecture, they need to be aware of their options-Run! Hide! Or Fight! Additionally, they need to be aware of how to make their decision the best one available. In other words, if I choose to run, what do I need to consider? All students should be made aware of the key items to consider-Exit with arms in the air; Encourage others to evacuate with you; Educate others outside of the building to remain outside and out of sight. Those individuals who decide to hide need to be aware of a different set of items-Look for cover, not concealment; Lock doors; Silence mobile phones; Lie on the floor and secure door with feet if you are unable to lock the door. Fleeing individuals need to be aware of the designated meeting location so that they may be accounted for. Finally, those who decide to fight or defend themselves need to have a plan and need to remember that common items on their desk or in their classrooms may save their lives. Trash cans, framed photographs, scissors, sports equipment can all be used for protection in these incidents. However, during the heat of the moment we should not be making our escape plan. Everyone should proactively prepare, rehearse, and consider our options when our emotions are not being tested. After all, no dancer would show up to the performance without ever having rehearsed their piece. Our safety plans should be viewed in the same way as a performance or sporting event. We need to practice the drill to perform it effectively.

Many of the students are walking back to their dorms at very late (or very early) hours of the day. A simple, yet effective way of ensuring our safety is to have a plan to indicate our whereabouts. If no one knows where you are, no one knows where to look for you should violence occur. Some may feel this recommendation is Big Brother-like, but the reality is someone needs to know where I am to know I’m missing.

Communication and education are the keys to any successful programs-school violence is no different. Therefore, educators-from elementary schools to college/university settings-need to have the ability to identify warning signs and have the support from their respective administrations to deal with these issues before violence takes place. Teacher in-service days and professor meetings should be used in order to educate these groups on warning signs, potential triggers, and resources. In order to make a difference in the frequency of these incidents, we need more individuals empowered to prevent them. Several shootings have been prevented by a simple phone call to the authorities to advise of a Facebook post, twitter posting, or SnapChat message. Therefore, I would like to propose a national “If you see something, Say something” campaign to be used to educate students, parents, and educators. If more people are made aware of potential trigger signs, prevention techniques, available resources, and proper responses to acts of violence, campus shootings are bound to become less frequent and college campuses are bound to become safer for all.