Universities in the US need to do more to prevent fatal shootings involving students, the chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley has said.
Speaking in a recent Times Higher Education podcast interview, Nicholas Dirks said a series of recent shootings involving school and college students – culminating in an incident near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara earlier this year, in which six of the university’s students were killed, three from gunshot wounds – should be a “wake-up call” for the sector.
“It is hard to say where it began. With Columbine, with Virginia Tech, with Sandy Hook and now with Santa Barbara…we hope [there is] a kind of wake-up call that we have to do more than we have been able to, in order to control the possibility that something like this will happen in our own school, our own college, our own university,” he said.
In 1999, 12 students and one teacher were killed in a massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, while in 2007, 32 people were killed by a student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
Professor Dirks said that in the aftermath of the Santa Barbara incident – in which 22-year-old British-born Elliot Rodger, who had been a student at nearby Santa Barbara City College before dropping out in 2012, stabbed three of his housemates to death before shooting and killing three other UCSB students – the University of California community met to discuss the implications of the tragedy.
“Our hearts went out to the families and students affected but also to the leadership at UCSB,” he said. “Henry Yang has been chancellor there for many years…and it has been incredibly hard for him and his colleagues.
“We immediately got in touch with their student counselling and student affairs group and sent down some psychologists and counsellors to help them deal with the horrible, horrible aftermath of that tragedy.”
The chancellors of the 10 universities in the California public system met up a week after the massacre, Professor Dirks said, in order to discuss how to respond.
“Of course we think about it as a university community in terms of what would happen if it happened on our campus – how would we respond to it? And we talked about how prepared we are for something like that to happen, and what we would do to try and prevent it from happening.” Berkeley has a number of protocols in place to help prevent campus shootings, Professor Dirks said. If “welfare checks” reveal complaints or concerns about particular students, University of California police will visit them, talk to their room-mates, friends and other associates, and also talk to staff.
“Of course we encourage faculty to identify students who might be in trouble, or who look like they are depressed or disturbed in some way,” Professor Dirks said, adding that the university also runs “gun checks” using public data to identify who has bought weapons legally.
“Gun checks don’t work of course if weapons have been procured illegally,” he added. “In the US it is impossible, clearly, to prevent these things from happening. We are doing what we can as a campus community to do that, but we also have to prepare ourselves in the event that something like this does happen.”