by Anna Katherine Cates
On Saturday, September 17, I had just returned from Music Midtown and was sitting in my dorm room when I received a GTENS alert to remain indoors. Alone, and without any other information, I turned to social media for answers (thank you modern technology). By combining sources, I believed that there was a dangerous shooter on campus. Terrified, I kept my lights off, blinds drawn, and door locked while monitoring my friends’ locations through Find My Friends. Minutes later, I read that GTPD shot someone, and they had been transported to Grady hospital where they later passed away. The following week, I received more accurate information through news outlets and others on campus.
At 11:17 pm, Georgia Tech Police Department (GTPD) received a phone call alerting them to a shooter on campus who intended to harm students. It was later determined by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that Scout Schultz had placed this anonymous phone call. Schultz, the leader of GT’s Pride Alliance, advanced towards the police with a small knife. As Schultz moved towards the officers, they commanded the student to stop. When Shultz continued to advance, an officer delivered the fatal shot. In response to this tragedy, a vigil was held in Schultz’s memory the following Monday night. This peaceful display, however, was followed by a protest on campus. The results of this protest include three arrests, destroyed property, and several minor police injuries.*
*According to a student I interviewed, the police injuries were mainly scratches and bruises
In the wake of this violence and tragedy, Georgia Tech students were left wondering how to handle the situation. Some responded with protests, others took to social media, while others remained quiet. Though the incident was covered by major news outlets across the globe (such as CNN, The Washington Post, BBC, & NBC), I personally had few conversations on the topic. To remedy this, I began an investigation into the relationship between GTPD and Tech students.
Having no background in investigative journalism, I began by simply asking my friends about their feelings towards the event and campus police in general. Admittedly, this provided a narrow perspective of the Tech community’s attitude on the whole. The primary group of first-years I spoke with all communicated that they felt safe on Georgia Tech’s campus, but one referenced the recent crime in Home Park as a concern in the surrounding area. Another common attitude was that students believe armed police increase campus safety. As one student noted, armed police act as a “natural deterrent” to criminals, keeping them from entering campus.
When I expanded my interview pool, it became clear that not every first-year shares these opinions. One student rejected the belief that armed officers increase campus safety, stating that guns aren’t necessary for “people at Skiles watching a farmer’s market.” This same student recounted the effect that GTPD had on her transition to Tech. Despite apprehension about being a member of the LGBTQIA community in the “deep south,” this student initially found acceptance from the Tech community.
“I came into this school already having a kind of touchy relationship with police. You know, watching police brutality, being visibly queer… I was unsure…and then…FASET was really nice because everyone was like yeah no…we’re not idiots, we’re cool…so the students I was comfortable around.
And then GTPD kills Scout and I was like, ‘Oh, I was going to go to GT pride and I probably could have met them if I did, and now I never will. This sucks.’ So I will probably never feel safe around GTPD while I’m here. I already don’t feel safe around police in general, and now I don’t feel safe around campus police.”
Though the vast majority of those I interviewed supported police presence on campus, it is important to consider the degree to which officers provide protection as opposed to serving as an emotional and physical threat. Armed and sworn campus police are a relatively new concept in the history of college campuses. The first autonomous campus police forces appeared in the 60’s and 70’s as a response to student protests against the Vietnam War and racial segregation. Their presences strengthened in the 1990’s as a result of the Clery Act. Today, there are over 4,000 police departments at universities across the nation. With campus shootings at the forefront of the news, and the recent enactment of the Campus Carry Act, it seems that student safety is at peak concern. Particularly at Georgia Tech, a recent string of robberies near campus has inspired GTPD to form a coalition with Atlanta PD in order to promote student safety.
For some, seeing an officer roll through campus in a golf cart, patrol car, or on a segway provides comfort. For others, however, these officers represent the loss of a friend and community leader. The loss of Scout last semester not only damaged the relationship between some students and our police department, but also relationships with the administration and even other students. Many felt that the administration lacked in transparency last semester. As one student recalled, factions formed within the community as students rushed to support both LGBTQ efforts and GTPD.
“It didn’t help that the other side were people who were rallying behind GTPD and it was literally an all lives matter situation. People were writing ‘We heart the LGBT community’ on campus… and people were going ‘and the cops [too]’…There was a lot of tension [within the student body].”
Taking this into account, it is clear that we as a community are in need of healing, but in what form? GTPD has embarked on several initiatives to nurture their relationship with campus. Professors, students, and others in our community are invited to “Coffee with a Cop”, where they can talk casually with police officers. Another program allows student organizations to “Adopt a Cop” as their personal contact with GTPD. Officers even performed with Gold Rush at a basketball game. These efforts, in addition to their social media presence (see their Twitter & Instagram), may make GTPD less intimidating to students mildly concerned about their presence, but what about those who have never trusted police? How do we promote comfort for all students on campus?
Though we may not have arrived at this answer, one benefit of the discussion has been an increased attention to the mental health resources on Georgia Tech’s campus. Improving knowledge of and accessibility to these resources is a need called into focus by the loss of Scout. Students have reported that it can take weeks or months to be seen by a professional on campus. Once a student finally secures a therapy session, these sessions are often only group therapy. Beyond that, there is a limited number of sessions available for free to a student before they have to go elsewhere or pay for the sessions, which some cannot afford. Recognizing this, President Bud Peterson and the Student Government Association have together allotted $1 million in additional funding for Tech mental health programs.
As our community continues to navigate this healing process, it is important that we move forward with empathy and sensitivity. Action we can all take to make strides toward a comforting atmosphere is to improve the pessimistic language that often hangs heavy throughout campus. We have all chosen to put ourselves in a challenging environment, and we are all well aware of the workload that accompanies a Georgia Tech degree. Instead of wearing the complaints of our Hell Weeks and insomnia like a badge of honor, let us focus on the incredible opportunity we have as Yellow Jackets.
This tragic event will always be a part of my freshman experience, but my hope is that the resultant conversations will transform this learning environment into one where all feel safe and supported.
The Georgia Tech psychiatry page can be found here, where students can contact a psychiatrist on call and schedule appointments. Our 24-hour Crisis Conversation Line can be contacted at 404-894-2575.