In Connecticut College's glass classrooms, students and faculty feel 'exposed,' unsafe

The professors at Connecticut College speaking in this article requested anonymity for fear of potential backlash from the college. Thirteen professors shared their thoughts, but only three agreed to be quoted. The Day will refer to them as Professor 1, Professor 2 and Professor 3.

New London — Fanning Hall, an academic building at Connecticut College, recently has been renovated to include large sunny windows, workspaces and classrooms; however, some faculty and students alike feel that all the glass exposes the occupants to potential harm.

Overseen by Vice President of Finance and Administration Rich Madonna, Fanning was under construction from this past April to September. The college partnered with the architectural company Becker + Becker to design the renovations and Babbidge Construction Company to implement the changes. The total estimated renovation cost, according to permits filed with the city's Building Division, was $1.28 million. Madonna was unavailable for comment.

"The purpose behind the renovation was to increase accessibility and facilitate student engagement," said Maryum Qasim, president of the college's Student Government Association. "The college installed an elevator, relocated the career center (the college's employment preparation office), and created more windowed classrooms for sustainability and aesthetic purposes."

But since faculty fear that the glass is not bullet-proof — college and other officials did not respond to inquiries into whether it is — some professors and students feel unsafe in these areas, some going so far as to call them "fishbowls."

"I do remember feeling weirdly exposed as people would walk by. It made me feel uneasy," Professor 1 said.

Professor 2 added, "I asked for blinds on my windows. I still haven't gotten them."

The real concern, as noted by Professor 1, is how this exposure translates into an unsafe learning area when considering the high numbers of shootings.

According to the national Gun Violence Archive, there have been 381 mass shootings so far this year — an uptick from the 331 total mass shootings in 2018. Considering this, professors are concerned about the security implications of glass classrooms and workspaces.

"Glass is not an effective security measure," Professor 1 said, outlining how glass classrooms and work areas leave occupants with little recourse in the event of an active shooter situation.

Mary Savage, the director of campus safety and emergency operations, points to the college's active shooter protocol in response to such concerns.

"Creating and maintaining a safe environment for students, faculty, and staff is our highest priority. Fanning Hall is no different than any other building on campus. Campus Safety officers do regular patrols and are within minutes of reaching any building on campus," she said.

"This year, we provided all faculty with information on the Run, Hide, Fight protocol for active shooters through the Rave Guardian app," she said, referring to a new phone application that members of the college community can access to quickly reach emergency personal, submit incident reports and receive updates on important security notices. "Also, building coordinators will be receiving additional training this year. Importantly, information is always available on the College's website, and we respond to questions from Conn community members all the time."

Savage outlined the college's emergency services. "The College has a Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan that is reviewed and updated each year. Additionally, the College's internal emergency management team, which includes representatives from all relevant divisions and offices, meets and participates in regular training and tabletop simulations to improve our responsiveness to emergencies."

"We recently installed a new, enhanced emergency alert system, which is tested twice each year," she said. "Emergency phones are also located throughout campus, including inside the residence halls."

Savage further emphasizes that faculty are trained in the Run, Hide, Fight protocol for active shooters.

When asked how they were trained, however, professors were clueless. Some were even unaware that there was a protocol.

"I have not received any training (on the active shooter protocol)," Professor 3 said. Professors 1 and 2 concurred, both stating that they have not received any training on the college's active shooter protocol in any way.

Professor 3 added, "It's a stretch to say: ‘Here's an app (referencing the Rave Guardian App). You've been trained.’"

The professors hope the college will take a more active role in training the community on protocol.

Professor 1 contends, "I wish I knew the protocol. I wouldn't know how to navigate the situation (in the event of an active shooter), and in conversation with my colleagues, they wouldn't know, either."

Some students agree with the professors' sentiments.

Sophomore Chris Campbell said, "I have no idea what the active shooter protocol is. I have no idea how the college is working to ensure my safety while I'm here."

"I wouldn't have any idea what to do. If there are ideal spots on campus to hide in, I don't know where they are," sophomore Alex Rodriguez said. He noted the newly renovated building, stating, "I don't think safety was considered when they transitioned from wood to glass. It's not just Fanning, though; both New London Hall and Blaustein (two academic buildings on campus) have glass classrooms. If there was an active shooter, what would I do while in these spaces?"

Much like the professors, the students hope that the college will train them on the Run, Hide, Fight protocol.

"In the past couple of years, we have increased training exercises and plan to involve more members of the campus community,” Savage said. “Like all colleges and universities, we are enhancing our training offerings based on industry best practices."

Professor 2 re-emphasized the request for blinds. "I don't believe that the college needs to implement panic rooms, safe rooms, or some kind of closet that students can hide in, but I think we should at least have blinds we can pull down. I find it crazy that, given the national rate of active shooters, the college is creating so many windowed areas that don't at least have blinds."

The protocol, which is available on the college's website, advises students who can't leave a building where an active shooter is located to "hide out of the armed person's view."

"Choose a hiding place with thicker walls and fewer windows, if possible," it advises. "Close windows, shades and blinds ..."

"Then why are there so many glass classrooms?" Rodriguez asks.

William Canellakis is a Connecticut College student.

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