On Sept. 12, 2017, there was a report of a shooting on the St. Kate’s University campus around 9:30 p.m. The report was that St. Kate’s Public Safety Officer, Brent Ahlers, had been shot by a young black man in the woods near Cleveland Avenue. Within the first half hour of the shooting, the campus was placed on lockdown and remained on lockdown for the next four hours until the all clear was given at 2:08 a.m. At noon, there was a community gathering in the chapel for processing and conversing about the events on campus the previous night. That evening, information was released by the Saint Paul Police Department (SPPD) that the officer had shot himself and was worried about the consequences of bringing a gun onto campus. He was arrested for falsely reporting a crime and has since had his St. Kate’s employment terminated.
After he was arrested, the University released an official message saying, “St. Catherine University strongly condemns racial discrimination, racial stereotyping, and racial profiling of any kind. The statements attributed to the former employee concerning the race of an alleged suspect are deeply troubling and do not reflect our values.” Some students felt that this addressed the issue thoroughly, while other students did not.
There was miscommunication surrounding the events on campus. The Star Tribune even commented that the shooter had been a student before receiving more information which showed that to be untrue. Since the University was giving out little information, there was incorrect information being spread about the shooting.
There were many issues that were brought up by this situation: issues regarding racial profiling, an inefficient communication process, trust in the St. Kate’s Public Safety office, and protocols for emergency situations on campus. These issues affected many groups of people such as students, faculty and staff, community members, and loved ones of the St. Kate’s community. This article specifically focuses at the impact on first year St. Kate’s students who were on campus. This event took place only nine days after these students moved in and began orientation. There had not even been a full week of classes.
Kalea Ott ‘21, apparel design major, was in her dorm room when she found out from her roommate that there was a shooting and the school was in lockdown. Although her first reaction was shock, she said, “I felt relatively safe during because [I] knew that the SPPD had the situation under control.”
She expressed frustration with the lack of effective communication throughout the event by the administration. She suggested that in the future, the administration should focus on thorough communication to reassure students.
After finding out that the shooting was a hoax, Ott said, “[I was] not surprised because it is another example of the sad problems in our world.”
Ott believes that the racial profiling was completely unacceptable. She was most disappointed because the hateful accusation was made by an employee, contrary to St. Kate’s message, which is an extremely loving and diverse community working to fight this kind of injustice. She believes that the profiling involved in the event was sufficiently handled by the administration given the circumstances. Ott was clear about the fact that this event did not impact her overall feelings about St. Kate’s or her safety on campus, acknowledging that it was one man’s hateful actions, and not a larger statement about the St. Kate’s community.
Maya Eckert ’21, undecided major, said, “[I was in a room] with seven girls total listening to the police scanner.” Afterwards, she was informed about the lockdown by one of her friends because she had not yet been informed by her resident assistant (RA).
Initially, Eckert was freaked out, confused and worried for the safety of her friends. She questioned, “Why would there be a shooter here?” Eckert noted that the administration was not communicating effectively with the students, causing some students to be in situations that would have been unsafe if there had been a real shooting on campus. She suggested that the university train students with various emergency drills during orientation so that all students and staff would be on the same page. She spoke about how since there was not a clear lockdown protocol, it was up to the RAs to determine what should be done.
Some RAs determined that it would be best to simply lock the doors and remain inside, others felt that all students should stay together in the hallways with all of the lights off and complete silence, and then there was a large range in between. All of the students that I have spoken to, including Eckert, were very impressed with how the RAs handled the situation and managed to keep the residents as calm as possible.
Eckert expressed that this event would nott affect her choice to live on campus next year and actually ended up bonding closer with the St. Kate’s community. She says, “There are so many people on campus who feel like family.”
Megann Meier ’21, psychology major, like Ott and Eckert, was in her dorm at the time of the shooting. Meier saw flashing lights and heard sirens pass by her building a few times so she went outside to see what was going on. She was told to go back inside and stay there. At this point she texted the other students in her orientation group to inform them of what was going on and tell them to stay inside. She stayed rational during the event doing all that she could to help other students remain calm and comforted in that time of uncertainty.
“Communication was not as good as it could have been,” says Meier. She feels that the university needs to do better about preparing students with different protocols for emergency situations. She notes that she was angry but not very surprised upon finding out that it was a hoax shooting. She commented that the public safety officer was going the “easy” route by placing the blame where society so often wants to place it based on discrimination.
Meier speaks about the administration, “In comparison to…a shooting on campus…sending a short email is not enough.”
Overall, different first year students were impacted and responded to the events on campus differently based on numerous factors. The overall feelings are that the events do not reflect poorly on the university as a whole, but rather on the officer himself and that communication has to be handled much better in the future if there is ever an event like this again.