Southern Miss students listen to Parkland survivor, reflect on campus safety

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Parkland survivor and self-described gun violence prevention activist Samantha Fuentes spoke for a University Forum Sept.17. In 2018, during her last class of the day, Fuentes survived a school shooting that left three faculty and 14 students dead. 

Video by Blair Ballou

Her speech encouraged students to reflect on how safe they feel at Southern Miss.

“Sometimes when I’m near the entrance of the Fresh, I get nervous imagining what could happen,”  junior communications major Rebecca Reed said.

Though Southern Miss has not had an active shooter, this fact does not stop students from feeling nervous or unsafe, according to senior media production major McKenzie Ellis. 

“I don’t feel very safe because I have never heard of USM having an active shooter protocol,” Ellis said.

According to the University Police Department webpage, the university has detailed plans in place to deal with emergencies and crisis that may occur on campus. The university’s Eagle Alert system would be used in case of an emergency.

Faculty, staff and student employees are trained for an active shooter situation by watching a training video titled, “Shots Fired on Campus.”

In her presentation, Samantha Fuentes argued, “Drills do not work.” During the school shooting, Fuentes remembered the sheer hysteria and lack of any protocol. Instead, she suggested that professors have an honest conversation with their students, and reevaluate what safety means to them. 

Southern Miss does not have an open-carry gun policy on either of its two campuses. 

Reed described a gun as a universal symbol of violence that can trigger panic or distress.

“Open-carry in large public settings has its cons and pros. You’re more likely to know who has a gun and remove yourself from a situation involving them. [But] just because people are allowed to carry openly, does not mean they will,” Reed said. 

Sophomore entrepreneurship major Chasity Hutchison believes there should be an open-carry policy. 

“[Open-carry] may dissuade a potential shooting as there are armed citizens who intend to use their weapon to fight back,” Hutchinson said.

To make schools safer, Fuentes suggested three solutions: increasing guards, increasing security footage, and heightening the age to buy a gun. She said that her goal is to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them.

“I think every survivor has a story,” Fuentes said. “This [telling her story] will be a part of my healing.”