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‘Locks are the bare minimum’: UNC first-years start safety features petition

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DTH Photo Illustration. A student reaches for the handle of a locked door in Carroll Hall.

"I was asked to use my wheelchair to barricade an unlockable door in the class I was in. We deserve to feel somewhat safe in our classrooms and lecture halls. Locks are the bare minimum," UNC senior Sarah Ferguson  said in a  comment on a student-led petition. 

The petition was created by first-year Violet Johnston two days after the Aug. 28 campus shooting and is titled “Add Locks to UNC Educational Buildings and Better Threat Response Plan.” 

As of Sept. 18, it has amassed over 2,250 signatures.

“Our original goal was 500 signatures,” Johnston said. “And we reached that goal in a matter of minutes on the first morning the petition was released.”

The petition includes four safety demands: locks on all classrooms and educational buildings, Alert Carolina messages available in Spanish, regular lockdown drills and a threat response plan and emergency training for students and faculty.

Johnston is part of a group of first-year students demanding better safety and mental health protocols at UNC. The same group is responsible for organizing a vigil honoring Professor Zijie Yan, the professor killed in the Aug. 28 shooting. The event was held outside the Student Union and had hundreds of students in attendance.

Though yet to be recognized as an official student organization, the group of students have been actively communicating their demands through social media, posters and collaboration with The UNC Workers Union. The union endorsed the petition, which led to an additional 500 signatures.

The first-years presented their petition to the Chancellor’s Office on Sept. 1, and Raife Levy, a first-year and member of the student group, said they plan to present a second time with more signatures and endorsements. 

Johnston said the group recently reached out to March For Our Lives and UNC Young Democrats for their support. 

Levy said he was in Lenoir Dining Hall during the lockdown on Sept. 13. He said dining hall workers pushed recycling bins up against the unlockable doors as a barricade.

He said it was “very harrowing” that many students had to barricade their classroom doors with furniture because there were no functioning locks.

“It was just truly shocking to me that they didn't even have these bare minimum measures for the classroom doors,” Levy said.

During the Aug. 28 shooting, first-year Jenna Valentino said she was in 121A Mitchell Hall, a classroom that she said lacked a functioning lock.

Valentino also said most of the desks and chairs were on wheels — leaving the students with no way to barricade the door, she added.

“I was really scared, especially because we were relatively close to Caudill Labs,” Valentino said. “It was across the road.”

Johnston said some of the safety measures mentioned in the petition could be implemented almost immediately, like sending out Alert Carolina messages in both English and Spanish. 

“One of the freshmen involved in the group creating this petition had to use his high school Spanish skills to tell workers in Lenoir that there was a dangerous man and an active shooting going on,” she said.

According to an email statement from UNC Media Relations, the Chancellor’s Office has received the petition and is collecting feedback from the entire campus community while they assess the situation.

Media Relations said that a classroom door lock initiative was created in 2018, which added internal or automatic locks to over 900 classrooms. However, they said the University has acknowledged there are issues with some of these locks and is currently looking into the problem as a part of a broader review.

Johnston said the group plans to become an officially recognized student organization in the spring. In the coming weeks, the group plans to announce their official name and social media channels, he said.

“When people want to come to Carolina they come because they feel like they can be a part of a community that they have a say in,” Johnston said. “And that's what we freshmen are looking for here.”

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@nataliebradin

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