How 3 universities are reacting to gun violence outside their campuses

Neighborhoods adjacent to urban colleges this year have frequently been caught in crosshairs of shootings.

Day after day this semester, gun violence has gripped the city of Philadelphia in areas just outside Temple University’s campus. The headlines speak for themselves:

  • “8-year-old girl grazed in the head by stray bullet from ambush shooting near Temple University”
  • “Man shot during gun battle in McDonald’s parking lot near Temple’s campus”
  • “Senseless: Fatal shooting of Temple University graduate believed to be attempted robbery”
  • “Scary: 100 people on street as shooting erupts near Temple University campus”

This past weekend, several students waiting to get into a party just a few blocks away were confronted by a perpetrator. He put a gun to a student’s head and forced all of them to give up their money, credit cards and phones. Hardly isolated, Philadelphia has become one of the epicenters of gun violence in America, posting more than 1,400 shootings and 375 fatalities this year. In March, Temple officials addressed the issue with students and did so again this summer before their arrival.

“The city of Philadelphia is facing an unprecedented crisis of gun violence,” Ken Kaiser, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, said in a statement to the community. “The unspeakable acts taking place near campus simply are not acceptable. We are considering all options to protect the safety of our students, faculty, staff and neighbors in North Philadelphia.”

And it has. It replaced its public safety director and took steps before the academic year to make the university safer. But the violence in the streets hasn’t stopped.

Temple is not alone. Gun-related incidents near campuses nationwide—including the University of Washington and the University of Denver in recent weeks—have prompted leaders to send out similar warnings about safety and vigilance. At UW, four students were hurt during a shooting on Sunday that happened a few streets from its quad, among several incidents of recent violence.

“We’ve been working with the city, Seattle police and the U District Partnership to address the root causes behind the increase in personal and property crime in the University District, and to ensure immediate responses to incidents when they occur,” said President Ana Mari Cauce, who is in her seventh year leading UW. “No one should have to fear for their safety as they go about their daily lives. Gun violence is a public health crisis, and we’re committed to working with our partners—including by providing evidence-based policy and health research—as we collectively work to make our community a safer place for everyone.”

The incident followed two separate reports of gunfire, not involving UW students but just off campus in Seattle. UW and universities in other cities beset by the violence have been vocal in both messaging while forging crisis teams and enacting different strategies. UW has created a new Campus & Community Safety department that handles every emergency possible, from counseling support, to suicide, to responding to violence and disasters among its teams. But its big message to students who are in an emergency has been a simple one that has worked for decades: Call 9-1-1.

Strategies to stop the violence

What universities like UW and Temple are doing more diligently than ever is working with local leaders to ensure the safety of both their populations and those in surrounding neighborhoods. UW’s work with U District Partnership, which serves institutions in Seattle, helps keep streets clean, assists those in need, and works to mitigate violence. Temple not only has increased the number of safety officers, escorts for students, and its neighborhood watch programs, but is also working with local landlords to stop crime. It has created a stipend program so they can install cameras or additional lighting on homes. For students concerned about safety living off campus, the university works with them to find alternative residences.

The University of Denver, which saw several gun-related incidents outside its campus to open the semester, is working with the Denver Police Department directly to prevent violence. Two officers from the department were assigned to the university “during the hours that have proven most problematic, overnight weekend hours,” according to Director of Campus Safety Michael Bunker. Temple University is doing the same, and working with a number of community-based organizations.

So far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 33,600 deaths related to guns—15,000-plus homicides and more than 18,000 suicides. There have been 516 mass shootings. There also have been 30,000 injuries related to gun use. More than a dozen college presidents across the Washington, D.C., area—where gun-related homicides are their highest in nearly two decades in 2022—are working on a national research effort to lower those numbers, called the 120 Initiative, for those that die every day from gunfire in the United States.

“We add university presidents to the call for change. Why? Because guns are now the leading cause of death for young people, and we are charged with shaping young minds to tackle the grand challenges of our time,” said Darryl Pines, President of the University of Maryland at College Park. “Because we lead communities that are deeply affected by the mass slaughter of citizens, and some weeks it feels like the flags at our public institutions fly ceaselessly at half-staff. And because universities are often the source of change and progress.”

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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