In the weeks following the Stoneman Douglas shooting in Parkland, Florida, school security has become an increasingly common topic of discussion both nationally and more locally. The question of violence prevention, especially, has arisen in a number of venues. Students and staff have expressed a variety of opinions as to what measures should be taken in order to continue fostering an educational environment that is dynamic as well as safe. In times of intense discussion, it’s important to be aware of the processes currently in place at Maryville College to ensure a high standard of security.
According to Section XIII of the Maryville College student handbook, the school’s emergency alert system, known as IRIS, notifies students, staff and faculty of on-campus emergencies by email, text and phone calls. The handbook, available on the college website, encourages students to update contact information frequently. At the beginning of each semester, students are prompted to update personal information during enrollment confirmation. Orientation programs also ask for contact information to be entered into the IRIS system database. According to Jill Bolton, executive assistant in the Office of Student Affairs, students who wish to update their phone numbers for IRIS alerts after the beginning of the semester must do so by contacting the Student Affairs office directly. For students, the IRIS system is opt-out, as newly matriculated students are automatically enrolled in alerts through their school email address. Faculty must choose to receive alerts.
Jack Piepenbring, director of campus security, noted that the school’s emergency communication system was implemented a number of years ago. IRIS is not, Piepenbring noted, a system that promises instantaneous message delivery, but it has been an effective system. Piepenbring said that IRIS has been used only to alert the campus community of inclement weather conditions, and that no violent situation necessitating an IRIS alert has arisen during his tenure. MC’s security staff are non-confrontational and unarmed, and the college maintains a direct line to the City of Maryville Police Department for use in cases of violent emergencies. The IRIS system is tested twice yearly, at the beginning of the fall and spring semesters. Piepenbring also explained that the method of an alert’s transmission impacts the speed with which it is opened by students. Alerts delivered via phone are, unsurprisingly, generally the first to be received, though students who have neglected to update personal information may discover alerts only through their school email accounts.
Communication is vital, but, with recent events such as the Parkland shooting newly engraved on the national consciousness, some students have advocated for more proactive approaches to campus security. The college’s director of Student Services, Jessica Boor, noted that students who feel the need for more intensive instruction on emergency responses are able to request such programming. Maryville College provides such instruction, and those in the campus community who are interested in receiving training in active shooter response scenarios, for example, are able to access it upon request. Boor also observed that, in some instances, hyper-focus on current events can, in itself, undermine perceptions of safety, regardless of actual change in a given area’s security level. The focus, Boor said, should be on researching the efficacy of various violence prevention programming and educating the campus community as to the nature and extent of potential security threats. Debate is a sign of healthy intellectual life. Enduring discussion is essential to Maryville College’s success as an institution. That such discussion be well-informed is equally important to formulating workable solutions for maintaining and improving the well-being of the Maryville College community.