On Tuesday, Oct. 17, one of my greatest fears as a college student was nearly realized when reports of an active shooter swept across the campus of Howard University.
It was 20 minutes past noon when my phone began to buzz with a flood of texts and calls from worried classmates. Word had quickly spread that there was an alleged armed person on campus. Naturally, my heart dropped and I went into a sudden state of shock. I was afraid because based on the history of campus shootings in the U.S. I believed that the allegations of a gunman on the yard could in fact be true.
Just over 50 years ago, one of our country’s first campus mass shootings took place at the University of Texas in my hometown of Austin. On Aug. 1, 1966, ex-Marine Charles Whitman entered the top of the university’s tower and proceeded to open fire with his rifle, killing 13 people and wounding over 30 others.
The tales of the UT Tower shooting have haunted me since I first learned of it during my early years in grade school. Unfortunately, such acts of gun violence have yet to come to an end; they have instead grown into an epidemic on college campuses across the nation.
According to a study conducted by the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, our country has faced a significant increase in the number of shootings on or near college campuses over the last 15 years. Based on the evidence, there has been a 153 percent rise in the number of shooting incidents between 2001 to 2016.
Within that time period, several other campus mass shootings took place, including what is now known as the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre — an incident in which 33 people were shot and killed by a student, Seung-Hui Cho.
As my phone rang off of the hook on the morning of Oct. 17 and police cars began to flood the streets, I could not escape the possibility of my university becoming the next target of a mass shooting. Per instructions given to me by my mother from over 900 miles away, I locked my door. I closed the blinds. And I stayed put and remained quiet. My hand gripped the phone as I began to ponder the odd normalcy of crouching in fear on the floor of a dormitory room.
After the response from more than 100 D.C. police officers and the inspection of three campus buildings, authorities eventually announced that they had found neither a loaded gun or an armed gunman.
But that would not erase the two hours when the university was on lockdown. We are fortunate to have all remained safe during those long moments of fear and uncertainty. And while this potential threat has ended, I cannot help but wonder about the future of safety on college campuses. It is my hope that drastic change will soon take place that will stem the trend of campus mass shootings, thus freeing students from living under the threat of gun violence and allowing us to do what we’re here for — to learn.
Alexa Imani Spencer is a former WI summer intern and a junior at Howard University in the media, journalism and film department. She hails from the great state of Texas and hopes to make her mark as an investigative reporter and documentary filmmaker.