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Opinion: An Open Letter To Campus Police

Last updated on April 11, 2023

By: Jordan Ashley

On Monday, 11:07 a.m. Volunteer State Campus Police issued an email responding to the Covenant school shooting that occurred just an hour before.  

“Vol State Campus Police Department would like to express our deepest concern to the entire Covenant community,” said Campus Police, and continued to list security procedures. 

As a student; If I was in a position of power and wanted to reassure a campus full of students in the wake of a school shooting, I can see two clear paths: express solidarity or offer strength. 

Volunteer State Community College Campus Police Department tried to offer strength. What they actually offered, however, was insult.  

Although likely unintentional it is not excusable.  

“Thinking about the possibility of an active shooter and having a plan of action should not panic you or stress you any more than a fire drill,” said the Campus Police Department email. 

When googled, “American students killed or injured by school fires in 2023,” the first result yields a list of school fires with 10 or more deaths (the most recent of which was in 1958).  

The reason for concern grows beyond statistics, though. Everyone knows stop-drop-and-roll, but does everyone know run-hide-or-fight? 

Fire drills are so commonplace as to be considered a necessary inconvenience. In the two years I have been attending in-person classes on the Gallatin campus, I had never participated in or heard of a lockdown drill. Until I specifically went looking, I was not even aware that the school had official documentation for what to do in a lockdown.  

In one—and only one—room in the school (the chemistry laboratory in Warf), I was able to independently locate a safety binder that contained emergency procedures for events ranging from tornados to active shooters. 

Similar information is available on, if you have the time and foreknowledge which most students don’t to navigate to the student’s tab, then to the Student Services section, then Safety & Support, and then—finally—to Emergency Procedures. 

There are a few Band-aide fixes available, including putting a direct link to Emergency Procedures under the Safety section of the student resources page, but that does not come close to addressing the central issue.  

When was the last time you had a positive interaction with a law enforcement professional?  

I truly hope a recent instance comes to mind, but I’m also certain that the vast majority of campus community members did not even bother trying to conjure a scenario so fantastic.  

That. Needs. To. Change. 

The Vol State Coffee with a Cop event doesn’t attract people that don’t already have a favorable view of police departments. The school’s criminal justice program may offer events and frequent interactions, but these are either not open to the rest of the community or are not advertised.  

In a time of turmoil, where central leadership and individual responsibility need to coalesce toward a general sense of solidarity and well-being, there is a simple way to improve the campus community’s safety and attitudes toward the campus police department:

Voluntary campus safety training sessions.  

These do not have to be resource-intensive and should not be cause for liability concerns. The information presented in the email sent out by campus police, though framed with a distinct lack of tact, is important and potentially lifesaving.  

If the campus police took this opportunity to recast themselves as teachers and guardians, students, professors, support staff, and the department itself would all benefit. 

I know that active shooter preparation is more controversial than fire drills. I understand that there may be concerns about pushback and legal issues. If our campus police cannot navigate the legality of helping to keep community members safe, then even more serious conversations need to be had.  

There is no excuse for students to be left to their own devices to protect themselves. This is a college campus. Knowledge is power. Empower us! 

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