Editor’s Note: This story is the second in a series of stories looking at the way concealed carry on campus will look once it goes into effect July 1.
On Tuesday, the first day of orientation, incoming students and their families filled the Kansas Memorial Union. One of the first things on their itineraries? A new safety panel for parents and guests.
According to Katie Treadwell, associate director for orientation in the Office of First Year Experience, one of the largest topics discussed by this panel and one of the largest questions on the minds of these parents and guests is concealed carry.
“We have a campus safety panel that will happen for parents and guests at orientation. Students don’t attend that,” Treadwell said. “KU Public Safety Office (KUPSO) will introduce all of the resources they use on campus to keep us safe and introduce the concept of concealed carry.”
Of course, she added, the panel also includes the representatives from the Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center (SAPEC) who will speak on issues regarding sexual assault and consent, as well as Student Affairs who will discuss campus safety “as a whole.”
“I think what we’ll find, hopefully, is that we’re going to be much the same as the rest of the Kansas and Lawrence has been for the past ten years,” Campus Police Chief Chris Keary said.
However, with the exemption that kept weapons off public Universities set to expire on July 1, the issue of concealed carry is one that is undoubtedly weighing on students’ and parents’ minds.
Over the past few years, administrators and groups like those presenting on the panel have gathered, from things like from town halls and orientations, student questions regarding the 2013 state law, which allows individuals over the age of 21 to carry a concealed weapon in any public facility unless security measures are in place.
“Any time a new question comes up at orientation, I submit it to the Provost's Office and they craft a response and make it publicly available so that in the future we can continue answering those questions,” Treadwell said. “Because part of making people feel OK about it is making them feel that their question is important even if it’s the hundredth time you’ve been asked that question.”
“The conversations that we’ve had with students have really been those ‘what if’ scenarios, not necessarily from a place of fear,” Treadwell said. “But just from a place of wanting to be prepared and being unsure about what this looks like on campus.”
With less than 20 days until those on campus are allowed to carry guns, concealed carry is becoming less of a “what if” and more of an inevitable part of campus that incoming students, regardless of their stance on guns, have questions about.
Members of the University community have been vocal about their opposition to guns on campus — including testifying in the Kansas legislature and publicly protesting. Right now, however, the goal of the University is to do as much as possible to inform the public on how to be safe with guns on campus.
Sarah Malakoff, a freshman from Mckinney, Texas, said she has been sure of her choice to attend the University for quite some time. Now, after only recently becoming aware of concealed carry at the University, she said she sees both negative and positive sides to the issue.
“It's great as it can allow someone to feel safe on campus and if need be, protect themselves in a dangerous situation,” Malakoff said. “However, you can be sitting in class or walking on Jayhawk Boulevard and a student right next to you will be able to have a gun and you have no clue as to what their intentions are.”
The importance of the hypothetical scenarios being dissected by staff like Treadwell are evident in the concerns of students like Malakoff. Although full of hypothetical questions right now, she said, it doesn’t change her decision to come to Kansas.
“It didn't even pop into my mind when considering where to go to college,” Malakoff said. “It's not something I think most high school students think about. It's a very new controversial topic.”
The issue’s influence, or lack thereof, on choice of college was the same with Nate Gendler, a freshman from Omaha, Nebraska.
Gendler, who described himself as aligning “moderately right” and supporting the second amendment, said he has become fairly educated over the years on carrying a concealed weapon and has plans to conceal carry in the future. However, his opinion skews when it comes to college campuses.
“I just think it should be a gun-free area, as public and private high schools and such are,” Gendler said.
When thinking about the issue and how it will influence his upcoming time at the University, Gendler said he weighs the pros and cons.
“It has many pros: more college gun safety classes, regulation and there is the potential that it could prove to be safe for students,” Gendler said.
The cons are paramount too, though, he added.
“I am not indifferent, I'd prefer it be gun-free,” Gendler said. “But I do understand and support the legality of concealed carry. I just don't know how I feel about them on a campus.”
Although students like Malakoff and Gendler didn’t consider the change when choosing a university, they may have questions about it once they get here. That’s why orientation assistants like Kenny Nguyen and Leslie Alva were trained to have the answers, or at least know where to find them.
Nguyen, a junior from Dodge City, said that in serving his second year as an orientation assistant, he hopes to help educate new students on concealed carry with the tools he has gained through training at the University.
“It’s all about prevention education right now, stuff like what to do if you see it, this is how you should conceal it and this is how it should be,” Nguyen said. “It’s nothing that KU can change.”
Instead of changing it, Nguyen said, the University is focused on educating students about concealed carry. Although the campus safety panel during orientation is for everyone except incoming students, they may have something just as good, maybe even better: peers working as their orientation assistants who likely had or have the same questions as them.
Alva, a junior from Kansas City, Kansas, said the issue of concealed carry will likely be one discussed daily during the two months of orientation. How that issue is to be discussed, she said, is up to the students.
“It’s one of those topics where you’re not just like, ‘Hey, by the way…’ There’s not really a way for you to introduce the topic to them,” Alva said. “You just be there.”
Everything you need to know about the concealed carry law that goes into effect on July 1.
Along with their assistants, incoming students will also attend an Opportunities Fair during their one day orientation. Hosted in a ballroom at the Union, the fair has been specifically designed to station KUPSO front and center in order to answer any questions.
“A lot of questions are stuff like, 'Are there going to be lockers supplied for students that are living in the residence halls?’ or ‘What about Watkins? Will that be considered conceal and carry,'” Nguyen said.
As part of their orientation assistant training, Nguyen and Alva attended the same panel that parents and guests will attend at orientation, where KUPSO was available to answer many of their questions. According to Treadwell, this panel will eventually be presented to incoming students at required Hawk Week event Jayhawk Jumpstart on Aug. 18.
“One of the things that we found when we talk with students about some of those pieces, the health, wellness, life on campus, is in June it’s not quite as relevant as when they’re actually here and spend a night on campus,” Treadwell said. “It’s a lot more real and more relevant at that point.”