UNCA host open forum to address Tuesday night’s student employee active shooter training

Sidewalk+chalk+protesting+David+Weldon%2C+the+director+of+emergency+management.+

Jemima Malote

Sidewalk chalk protesting David Weldon, the director of emergency management.

Jemima Malote, [email protected], Editor-in-Chief

On Tuesday night, Highsmith administration and the public safety department hosted a mandatory Highsmith student staff meeting on emergency preparedness, where they completed an ALICE training program.

The training occurred in the Blue Ridge South room in Highsmith Student Union.

The meeting drew criticism from attending student employees who said they were not given adequate warning about what the meeting entailed. 

Staff present for the training were Silke Crombie, associate director of Highsmith student union, David Weldon, the director of emergency management and Jessica Inman, director of Highsmith student union.  

When student employees arrived at the meeting, they were told by Weldon, the staff member leading the program, that if they were to leave, they would have to speak with another staff member as to why. 

In the meeting, student employees were shown footage from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting and photos from the UNC Charlotte shooting in April 2019.  

As part of the training portion of the meeting, students were told to run and hide from a mock shooter. During the training program, the Highsmith student union was left open to students who were also not made aware of the meeting or activities occurring.  

The following day, Meghan Harte Weyant, vice chancellor of student affairs and other staff members, wrote and sent an email to students addressing the incident. 

“Concerns about a mandatory student employee meeting for Highsmith student employees that included active shooter preparedness training have been brought to my attention, which I am in the process of addressing. It is my understanding that this active shooter preparedness training has been used at UNC Asheville for the last eight years, and is used across the UNC System. Pending further review, the program here at UNC Asheville has been paused. The first step involved immediately contacting impacted student employees to offer opportunities for them to share their experiences. Additional times and opportunities will be provided and communicated to impacted student employees. I am working directly with the Highsmith staff to provide follow-up support and resources, “ part of the email read.  

Staff also announced an open forum hosted by Inman and Dean of Students, Megan Pugh, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. to address the situation and get a better understanding from student employees who attended the meeting. They also announced two other meetings on Thursday from 10 to 11 a.m. and 3 to 4 p.m. 

Students at the open forum said they were encouraged to be like Riley Howell, a student who took down a school shooter during the April 2019 shooting at UNCC. 

Students also said during the event, Weldon led the meeting in an inappropriate fashion, making jokes and egging on student workers to do the same. He also compared himself to a comedian and made a comment about the audience being a tough crowd.  

At one point in the meeting, Weldon imitated the sound of a gun by clapping his hands together. He also made a gun with his hands and pointed it onto students’ temples, pretending to shoot in demonstration of how quickly it can happen and later used a fake gun to point at students.   

One student said they felt trapped in the meeting and although they felt uncomfortable, they thought their excuse to leave was unjustifiable and stayed. 

Students said they received little to no warning about what the meeting entailed, only that it was mandatory. Some received more detailed emails from their bosses, like those in the ACE department.

Others contrasted the lack of warnings with the emails sent to students regarding fire or tornado drills, saying meetings for those events are sent well in advance. 

Students also expressed their dissatisfaction with the training portion of the event. When they were told to run and hide, some students had a panic attack and three got injured while running away. 

Further in the meeting, student employees expressed their hesitancy with repercussions about speaking out and even attending the open forum meeting, with some voicing concerns about losing their jobs. 

At the meeting, Inman, one of the staff members present for the training, apologized to students for its handling.

“We were addressing in the moment what those students needed, what they absolutely needed in that moment, and at that point when the last student left is when the program ended,” she said. 

Pugh, who was not in attendance for the training, but helped write the email sent to students also apologized. 

“I want to apologize to you all for not taking into consideration even in the moments between last night and today. For not taking into consideration that you all are carrying stuff that I have never had. We all got our things, but you all have things I have never had to consider,” she said.

Pugh and Inman explained why Weldon and Crombie were not invited to the meeting, saying they wanted to focus on student experiences rather than pile on to what staff did during the training. 

“This is not a space where we wanted to create a dynamic where we were piling on, so that is why David Weldon is not here. We can tell David Weldon how you feel about things. There will be opportunities for you to share with David Weldon how you feel about things, but today our priority was hearing from you all,” Pugh said. 

Pugh said all employees that work at UNCA go through active shooter training, but moving forward, the school plans to listen to student input and reexamine the training program. 

“Really being thoughtful with our student audience of who are you all and what are the experiences you are all coming into our university with. How should that inform the information we are giving you,” she said.

The Blue Banner will continue to cover this topic as details continue to emerge.

Students and faculty respond to UNCA’s response to Thursday night’s training

Update

Meghan Harte Weyant, the vice chancellor of student affairs, sent an email on Sept. 23 saying the school is conducting a full review of the training program and expect its completion by the first week of October. Weyant also said on Sept. 27 at 6 p.m., the administration will host a community conversation where they will apologize to students. 

updated on Sept. 23.