March 26, 2023

ASHEVILLE – After an active shooter training drill that students say went awry at UNC Asheville last week, the school is investigating, the administration is halting future training, and the dean of students is conceding a “blind spot” regarding how younger people experience traumatic situations.  
On Sept. 20, training at the Highsmith Student Union involved an exercise in which students were told to run and hide from a mock shooter, as previously reported by the Blue Banner, the school’s student newspaper.
Students later characterized the incident in an open forum — filmed by the Blue Banner — as “traumatizing.” They said they were not given adequate warning about what would happen at the training, which included depictions of violence. Students, as a result, contacted administration, according to Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Meghan Harte Weyant.
“Concerned students alerted us about an active shooter preparedness training program that took place on Tuesday evening with student employees,” Weyant said. “We are conducting a comprehensive review of the program’s history and the evening’s event.”
The Banner’s editor-in-chief Jemima Malote also reported students were shown footage from the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting and photos from the 2019 UNC Charlotte shooting.
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The training was optional and students were allowed to leave, but in a public conversation with administration Sept. 22, some involved said they didn’t feel they were allowed to leave because the training was described to them as “mandatory.” They also alleged communication about the training was very unclear both before and after the incident.
The meeting, in which the ALICE Training active shooter response program was used, was led by Director of Emergency Management David Weldon. At one point during the training, students said they were running and that a fake gun was used.  
“The active shooter preparedness training was implemented eight years ago by UNC Asheville’s Emergency Management,” Weyant said. “The purpose is to prepare members of the campus community with actionable steps in a worst-case scenario.”
The training event was part of what Weyant described as a long-term preparedness program. Active shooter preparedness training classes are held regularly, she added.
But these classes are on hold after students raised concerns and called for better communication and oversight.
“The active shooter preparedness training program has been paused, pending a further review that includes a comprehensive study of the program’s history and a thorough investigation of what happened on Tuesday,” Weyant said. “More immediately, University staff members have reached out to student employees to hear their concerns and provide any necessary support. We hope to fully understand the events that transpired so that we can take appropriate action for the care and well-being of our entire campus community.”
Part of that effort to “reach out” happened during a Sept. 22 student forum, during which new Highsmith Student Union Director Jessica Inman and Interim Dean of Students Megan Pugh talked directly with students, many of whom expressed frustration at the incident itself and how it was being handled.
“I personally am utterly appalled by the action that took place on Sept. 20 but also the inaction afterwards,” said one student at the forum. “As a Gen Z student, there is not one year in my school life that I did not practice an active shooter drill.”
Students argued at the forum that both the insensitivity of the training itself and the lack of response afterward were both problematic.
They also called for Weldon to be fired, noting they were not aware that the meeting was ALICE Training and thought it was simply an extension of standard emergency training.
ALICE is an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. The program is a popular one meant to “improve chances of survival” in active shooter situations. It’s also controversial.
As reported in news outlets like gun violence investigations publication The Trace and education reporting nonprofit The 74, despite its effectiveness in some situations, it also can be traumatizing.
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“To insist that a type of training that has been under scrutiny for years because of its effects — traumatizing people rather than being educational — be mandatory … is immoral,” one student told Inman and Pugh at the forum.  
“Right now a member of the student affairs initiative team is doing what we’re calling a fact-finding,” said Pugh, who was also asked if she and Inman would condemn the actions of those involved with planning the Sept. 20 training. “I don’t think I could condemn anything. What I … will say is … you have illuminated an incredible blind spot, not just for me, but for my colleagues in terms of how we approached teaching this information.”  
Comments about the “blind spot” Pugh said, were personal reflections on the situation. “It never even occurred to me that you all who are coming into UNC Asheville or who have been here for a few years, you have a totally different relationship to active shooter drills, to active shooter trainings, to active shooters as a whole, to those experiences that I do not have.”
Pugh said she didn’t want to condemn something she didn’t see with her own eyes but said the students’ reaction to the situation gave her “a clear path forward” in addressing the situation.
For administration, the path forward is a combination of addressing students, but also bolstering its active shooter training initiative.  
“We take the safety and well-being of our students and campus community very seriously,” Weyant said. “As a learning community, we look forward to considering ways to support our students and strengthen this program in the future.”
Andrew Jones is an investigative reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at @arjonesreports on Facebook and Twitter, 828-226-6203 or Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.


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