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OPINION: Stockton’s failure to address AC shootings poses a threat to student safety

Written for The Argo by Victoria Corless

On the morning of March 10, 2023, just before the beginning of Spring Break, a shooting occurred mere feet away from Stockton University’s Atlantic City Campus. 

Stockton University’s administration failed to issue a statement to students or faculty residing in Atlantic City residence halls or the John F. Scarpa Academic Center, and classes on the Atlantic City Campus continued as scheduled despite the presence of SWAT team units and armored police vehicles in the area. This incident raised significant concerns regarding Stockton University’s commitment to its students’ safety.

The frightening event took place while the majority of students were still active on campus and attending scheduled classes. Despite the overwhelming need for cautionary updates, no emails or bulletins were issued from the school administration to explain the situation and advise students to be careful of their surroundings or stay inside until more information could be obtained. In light of the fact that the shooter had not been apprehended at the time, this should have been treated as an active shooter situation. 

A reporter for BreakingAC covered the story, stating, “The man is wanted in a shooting that put an Atlantic City grade school on lockdown as students arrived Friday morning…”, referring to Richmond School, located 0.2 miles away from the shooting site. Surprisingly, Stockton University’s proximity to the incident was only mentioned in passing and described as being “a block away.” This misleading statement fails to reveal the true proximity of the University to the event, as it was actually just across the block (approximately 450 ft).

It is noteworthy that Stockton’s administration did not provide the same level of safety procedures as Richmond School, which responded to the threat by putting the school on lockdown as well as having security personnel and Atlantic City police officers on site. On the other hand, Stockton University—an institution that claims to pride itself in its “student-first” policies— ignored its responsibility to ensure a safe educational environment for its students and faculty.

The Clery Act, a federal law, requires institutions of higher education in the United States to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses. Based on this mandate, it is alarming that Stockton University failed to take appropriate action, such as communicating with its student body or canceling classes, during this dangerous situation.

The University’s response—or lack thereof—to the shooting near its campus raises questions about its priorities, and how much they value its students’ security. In the future, it is essential for Stockton to proactively adopt transparent communication and appropriate measures to protect its community from harm, instead of looking the other way to minimize damage when danger lurks just a few feet away.

A recent surge in criminal activity around educational institutions has led to increased scrutiny of the way schools and universities handle crisis situations. Two incidents in Atlantic City and Pennsylvania, along with investigations by the U.S. Department of Education, shed light on potential shortcomings in communication during active shooter threats.

In Atlantic City, a man was wanted in connection with a shooting that put a nearby school on lockdown. The Atlantic City police managed to identify the shooting suspect, whose actions prompted the school to go into lockdown mode. While emergency protocols were implemented, the effectiveness of the school’s communication with the public and nearby institutions has not been reported.

Similarly, Penn State came under fire for not sending a text alert after an off-campus shooting occurred. Questions were raised about the necessity for improved communication systems, both to warn students and faculty members and to ensure proper procedures are followed in similar situations.

The Middlebury Campus, a student publication, criticized Middlebury College’s inadequate communication during an active shooter threat in its April 2023 issue. The editorial called for transparent and immediate communication to protect the campus community.

Separately, investigations by the U.S. Department of Education have shown that university crime reporting can be inconsistent. MSNBC News reported that one university failed to report crime statistics as required, leaving students, parents, and staff in the dark about the real extent of criminal activity on campus. ESPN detailed an incident in which the U.S. Department of Education cited Michigan State University for violations of the Clery Act, which requires institutions to accurately report crime and statistics to the public.

These examples shed light on the importance of timely and accurate communication during active shooter threats and other criminal activity on and around educational campuses.

It is imperative for universities to have effective communication protocols with local officials and stakeholders to ensure a coordinated and collaborative approach to campus safety. Universities must not turn a blind eye to incidents like this and take proactive measures to ensure the safety and well-being of their communities. Only then can universities foster a safe and inclusive environment for their students, faculty, and staff members, and earn the trust and support of their wider community.

In conclusion, educational institutions must take their responsibility seriously to provide regular communication and reporting about criminal activity on and near campuses. Effective communication serves as a critical element in ensuring the safety and well-being of students, faculty, and staff members.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: It’s worth noting that a new residence hall for Stockton students in Atlantic City is ready to open in Fall 2023—only months after the shooting that occurred in Spring 2023. According to the Press of Atlantic City, Stockton announced an upcoming ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the new addition sometime toward the end of March, after the suspect was apprehended. While it’s unclear whether the administration’s response to the shooting was influenced by the upcoming development, this incident highlights the overarching importance of universities prioritizing safety and transparency for their students.