Students who grew up with active shooter drills now face the same in college. When drills become reality, faculty members who lack that experience must include students in decision making about how to navigate the aftermath.

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One of the emerging stories in the aftermath of a mass shooting at the University of Virginia is the stark difference in response between faculty and students. While students have asked for time and support in dealing with the shock and horror of the event, many faculty attempted to return to the planned schedule of classes and assignments.

The shooting

On Sunday, November 13 around 10:30 pm the University of Virginia Emergency Management sent out a campus-wide alert: 

UVA Alert:  Shots fired reported at Culbreth Garage. Follow fire/police direction. If possible, avoid the area.”

Roughly 15 minutes later, the University of Virginia Emergency Management sent out a more specific alert:

UVA Alert: ACTIVE ATTACKER firearm reported in area of Culbreth Road. RUN HIDE FIGHT”

By 11 pm, the message from the University of Virginia Emergency Management became more urgent:


The night continued with urgent alerts flying in, keeping students informed on relevant information: shooter locations, shooter description, etc.

AP reported students huddled inside laboratory closets and darkened dorm rooms across the campus while others moved far away from library windows and barricaded the doors of its stately academic buildings after an ominous warning flashed on their screens: “RUN. HIDE. FIGHT.

The three-word mantra has been taught in schools over the last decade. 

“I think our generation has been so habituated to these being drills and this being commonplace that I didn’t even think it was all that serious until I got an email that said, ‘Run. Hide. Fight,’ all caps.”

University of Virginia student

RUN—if there is an accessible escape path, attempt to evacuate the area. HIDE—if evacuation is not possible, find a place to hide where the active shooter is less likely to see you. FIGHT—as a last resort, and only if your life is in imminent danger, attempt to disrupt or incapacitate the active shooter.

The normalized unthinkable

For these students, aged 18-22, active shooter drills have been a norm in their education. Responding to the immediate threat of an on-campus shooting was a moment they had prepared for since their first elementary school years.

“I think our generation has been so habituated to these being drills and this being commonplace that I didn’t even think it was all that serious until I got an email that said, ‘Run. Hide. Fight,’ all caps,” University of Virginia student Ellie Wilkie told the AP.

But dealing with the emotional trauma of an actual mass shooting event that killed three members of the school’s football team late Sunday left students shaken.

“​​Daughter: 4th-year UVA student. Distraught. In a 20-person American Studies class with Devin Chandler. 3:30 today, in fact. “Dad, he’s awesome. He always walks into class smiling and cracking jokes.” She’s talking in present tense.  What class, you ask? “Non-Violence in America,” a student’s parent tweeted.

The aftermath

Almost everyone close to mass violence will have stress reactions in the immediate aftermath. The initial relief to be alive may be followed by distress, fear, survivor guilt, or anger. 

Survivors of mass violence, or their family members, colleagues, and friends, may find it hard to stop thinking about what happened, have trouble sleeping, or feeling keyed up or on edge. 

Most people’s reactions will lessen after the first few weeks of the event. Reactions may be more intense and longer-lasting for those injured, have experienced prior trauma, lost someone they knew, or were present when the violence happened.

On Monday morning, some professors attempted to hold classes as normal. Students took to their social media accounts to plead with the university president.

In a message to the University community Monday afternoon, University President Jim Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom said the decision to cancel classes a second consecutive day was intended to “give our students the opportunity to reflect, mourn and gather with each other.”

“We have also asked deans and, through them, the faculty to be as flexible as possible with respect to students, assignments, and attendance,” the message said.

Following the announcements, several people within the UVA community began tweeting about professors who they felt lacked any sympathy for the students.

“Some @uva professor colleagues of mine notified our students they would still be holding class on Zoom today despite the fact that some students had sheltered in place all night, that the shooter was still loose & the admin had said no classes. This too is violence,” one user said.

A UVA faculty member stepped out and told his colleagues how ridiculous it was to hold classes.

College students being outspoken about their professors’ perceived lack of empathy has a growing trend. But in the wake of these tragic events, it’s worth asking just how disconnected faculty are from the students they are attempting to educate.

In the short term, these students will have to cope with an altered sense of personal security.

In the immediate aftermath of mass violence and disasters, people’s reactions, needs, and priorities vary. Most people have a core set of priorities related to five key needs:

  • Reestablishing a sense of safety
  • Regaining control and calm
  • Connecting with loved ones and others
  • Getting through the crisis
  • Feeling hope, optimism, faith, or the belief that things will work out

Students at UVA resumed classes on Wednesday, less than a week after the incident.

OnlySky news editor Tatiania Perry has been a writer for Newsweek, Illinois Public Media, and NBC Universal, as well as in the non-profit sector. She holds a Masters in Journalism from the University of...

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