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UNC community looks back on campus security and safety in 2023

Two UNC students embrace each other as they exit a building following the shooting on campus on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023.

This year, students and faculty experienced a series of events on campus that many considered to threaten the safety of the UNC community. 

“I think this year has really changed the way safety has looked on campus,” Jaleah Taylor, the undergraduate student body secretary said

Gun violence on campus 

On Aug. 28, associate professor Zijie Yan was shot and killed in Caudill Laboratories. Less than three weeks later, another lockdown occurred when an individual brandished a firearm at Alpine Bagel in the Student Union

Nikhil Kothegal, treasurer of the graduate workers co-chapter of The Workers Union at UNC, said many graduate student workers felt the University response after the shooting was one of policing and not prevention.

Immediately following the shooting, first-year Violet Johnston created a campus safety petition which has now garnered more than 2,400 signatures. Johnston said if students wanted their voices to be heard, the petition needed to focus on feasible change. 

The document contains four main points: ensuring all doors lock, updating the Alert Carolina system to include Spanish translations of messages, having routine lockdown drills and providing threat response training to faculty and students. 

“Since the 28th of August, we’ve done over 50 active shooter trainings with various organizations and departments on campus,” Brian James, chief of UNC Police, told The Daily Tar Heel. 

Johnston said the additional training that departments are receiving is “wonderful.” 

In another stride to increase campus safety after the shooting, the University is installing license plate readers across campus. 

“It has proven success — not only in creating investigative leads for crimes that have already occurred, but also as a deterrent,” James said.

Crime on campus

Instances of assault, such as the altercation at the intersection of Raleigh Road and South Road in April and the sexual assault at McClinton Residence Hall in October, have propelled the UNC community into action.

In an effort to improve safety, hundreds of security cameras were installed in various residence halls over the summer and are intended to be used when investigating criminal activity.

Taylor emphasized the student government’s work to promote safety programs across campus like the student-run She’s Not Here program, which students can use to book safe rides home after a night out. 

The female-founded initiative aims to provide female-identifying students with a more comfortable alternative to mainstream ride share services. 

Taylor also said UNC's Violence Prevention and Advocacy Servicesworks to keep the campus community safe by providing training and information regarding relationship safety. 

“During the 2022-2023 academic year, VPAS trained over 1,000 students, staff, faculty, and community members on topics related to bystander intervention, consent, healthy relationships, and supporting survivors of gender-based violence,” Shelley Gist Kennedy, UNC violence prevention coordinator, said in an email statement. 

Kennedy said that in response to student interest, the program has expanded programming, outreach and student leadership opportunities. 

New director of threat assessment 

In October, UNC Director of Threat Assessment of Management Angel Gray joined University staff. 

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Shewill focus some of her work on designing an approach for potential threat identification, according to UNC Media Relations. Gray, who received her master of public health from UNC, previously worked as general counsel for the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation

In her role, Gray will report to Derek Kemp, associate vice chancellor for campus safety. 

UNC Media Relations said the University has units that work together to support emergency preparedness and evaluate safety concerns. It will be Gray's responsibility to engage with those efforts.

“The threat assessment landscape is increasingly challenging and complex," Ed Markowski, the University of Virginia's director of threat assessment, said in a statement.

He said UVA supports UNC's decision to hire a director for threat assessment.

"Although we work for different institutions, we are united in the mission to keep communities safe. One goal. One team," Markowski said in the statement. 

Community reflection

Throughout this year, many students have reflected on their experiences surrounding campus violence. 

“The idea of safety is one that, as I’ve gotten older, I realize I’m not really sure I believe that there’s such thing as safety," Kothegal said. "We can try to reduce risks, I guess. It’s illegal to carry a gun on campus, but that doesn’t mean that people won’t break those laws.” 

Emma Lewis, a community outreach organizer with Students Demand Action, a gun violence prevention organization on campus, said her group met with Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz on Oct. 31 to reflect on campus gun violence. 

While she said there were concerns about how the shooting was handled, Lewis said there are changes being made. 

“We are getting more locks on the doors, they’re working on Alert Carolina and mental health resources, so that’s good,” she said

But when asked if she feels safe on campus, Lewis said, “The simple answer is no.”


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