Dartmouth students reflect on their sense of safety after shooting

by Abby Mihaly | 11/7/18 3:00am

Following Friday night’s shooting on School Street, many Dartmouth students no longer feel safe in Hanover.

Carlos Polanco ’21 said that for many who come from areas where gun violence is common, “Hanover was an escape from that.” He added that before Friday, he considered Hanover a “bubble of safety” and that Friday’s shooting “shattered” this idea and caused him to re-evaluate how he felt on campus.

“For many people, [the shooting] was a wakeup call to the fact that Dartmouth is not an isolated bubble from the rest of the world,” Jennifer West ’20 said.

Mariana Peñaloza ’22 said that she, too thought she left violence behind when she came to Dartmouth. At home in Miami, Peñaloza said that she doesn’t walk outside alone, but coming to Dartmouth just nine weeks ago was the first time she felt she could walk around at night as a five-feet two-inches tall young woman and not have to worry. Now, Peñaloza said she rushes between buildings at night.

“I walk to my dorm as fast as I can; I literally open the door and I take a deep breath and a sigh,” she said. “I didn’t do that before, and that’s upsetting.”

Students found Friday night’s events especially difficult in the wake of the shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue last week. Nicole Aboodi ’21, who comes from a Jewish community, said that experiencing a shooting at Dartmouth just a few days after Pittsburgh “triggered” her.

“It always feels so distant,” Aboodi said. “It’s always like, it’s never going to happen to me, it’s never going to happen to anyone I care about — but I’m sure everyone feels that way until it happens to them.”

“About a week before, I feared for my best friend’s life in the Pittsburgh shooting,” West said. “Last weekend, I feared for my friends’ lives on campus. It seems as if nowhere is really safe.”

As soon as the all-clear had been called, students began posting on social media. Some reposted news articles; others expressed the hope that their friends and followers would go to the polls on Nov. 6.

Peñaloza said that she posted on Facebook because she was angry that gun violence continues to be an issue, even after shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida, earlier this year, which is about 30 minutes away from her home. She said she hoped her post would inspire others to get angry, too, and to take that anger to the polls.

Hana Warmflash ’20, however, expressed frustration that her peers’ posts and conversations focused on voting.

“If this happening to you … makes you go out and vote, that’s a great thing,” Warmflash said. “But I really wish it wasn’t the case that someone felt like it had to happen to them first in order to make them go vote.”

Peñaloza also spoke of the increased visibility of certain kinds of shootings in predominantly white areas. She said that though the Parkland shooting received widespread press, gun violence has been prevalent, especially among Latino and Black communities, long before Parkland.

“They brought the issue to light because of their race,” Peñaloza said.

Warmflash said that the onslaught of posts among her peers “almost takes away from the experiences of people who don’t have the ability to speak out in a social platform like we do as Dartmouth students.”

On the night of the incident, the Dartmouth Democrats tweeted, “Please be safe everyone and stay inside. <3 Gun violence is not acceptable — not at Dartmouth, not anywhere — and we all must work towards a society where these events are not only illegal, but unheard of.” The tweet was promptly removed, following negative reactions.

President of Dartmouth Democrats Max Brautigam ’20 said that those who believe shootings should not be politicized are “afraid of politics,” stressing that people don’t always realize “politics can be a good thing.”

“I don’t think people should be afraid of making these conversations political, or framing them as political,” Brautigam said. “I think with regards to people being concerned about politicizing Friday’s event, I say, sorry, we’re going to politicize it. Because politics are best when they reflect people’s lived realities. And my lived reality was that I was locked in the basement of the Hopkins Center hoping someone didn’t come and shoot me,” he said.

Warmflash and Peñaloza both expressed that they felt the College had done a good job keeping the student body safe. Warmflash said that though some Dartmouth students have said the College caused undue stress by instating a shelter advisory, she believed that it was fulfilling its responsibility to keep students safe, adding that local restaurants and other local businesses where activity appeared to go on as normal don’t have this same responsibility.

Some expressed frustration, however, at the College’s lack of specific and timely information.

Warmflash said that many were confused regarding what was real and what was misinformation. Many tuned in using the police scanner, and word of other shots and intruders in different locations around campus circulated in group chats.

West was abroad with a group of Dartmouth friends, and said that they were anxiously scrolling through social media to try and determine what had happened.

“We didn’t really know what was going on, so we believed everything,” Brautigam said.

Interim and associate director of the Department of Safety and Security Keysi Montás said that Safety and Security wanted to ensure the information was both timely and accurate.

“It’s always a balancing act between finding out information and providing information,” he said. Montás added that Safety and Security worked closely on the night of the incident to ensure they were making informed decisions regarding when to instate and lift the shelter in place.

Polanco said that the College’s procedures will need to adapt after the incident. He said that as an undergraduate advisor, he was worried for his residents, but had no shelter in place training or set procedures.

“No one knew what to do or where to go,” he said, adding that the College should adopt new policies on the dissemination of information and training of personnel.

Montás said that he was pleased with communication between the Hanover Police and Safety and Security, and that he felt they were able to keep the community informed.

“There is always learning and improvement, but I am very satisfied by the way the combination of things played out,” Montás said.

Aboodi and Warmflash are members of The Dartmouth Staff.