On Monday, October 19, members of the Villanova community received an email from Rev. Peter Donohue, OSA, saying that the Villanova Department of Public Safety will be transitioning into a police department by the Fall of 2016.  A select group of officers will undergo extensive training and will eventually carry firearms and defensive equipment on campus.

This email followed shortly after the threat against an “unspecified university near Philadelphia” that left the Villanova community in a state of utter panic and distress on Oct. 5th. While the University has stated that the two events are not explicitly related, a campus police department will be charged with protecting the community against such a situation, were it ever to occur. Since Villanova students have not experienced many instances of fear on campus in their time here, this threat came as a shock that quickly turned into mayhem.  While students tuned into news coverage on other campuses, it was hard to ignore the notion that many schools, including Villanova, brought in police to protect the campus with firearms. 

Would having public safety armed have stopped the panic that was Oct. 5th?  The decision to transition Villanova’s public safety department into a police department is not one to be taken lightly.  In a time of constant campus shootings and violence, hostility toward police and the mass hysteria regarding gun control laws, the notion of surrounding a campus with armed guards will cause an uproar.  

The fact that this country has evolved into a place where college campuses need armed guards is devastating, but it may be a devastating reality that people need to accept. The problem with Villanova’s decision to make this transition should not come from a general resentment for guns on campus, but instead from the fact that the community was not very involved in the decision.

Two years ago public forums were held for the commmunity to voice its opinions about arming public safety officers, but the topic was ultimately dropped and silenced. Where were these forums for the students that currently reside on campus and will have to live with the decision of Villanova officials until graduation? 

The only way that this notion can succeed is if the community is kept constantly informed about the situation—unlike this week when the community was left dumbfounded at the sudden decision to obtain police force. Students as well as faculty should be updated throughout the transition process with explicit explanations of what this switch will entail.  Will students receive citations for underage drinking if confronted by campus police? When is armed force acceptable, and what is the protocol for students?

Rev. Donohue is currently traveling and will hopefully be able to address this process further upon his return to campus.  There will be many members of the community who disagree with the decision to fight guns with more guns, but the University can alleviate the situation by maintaining clear communication.  

The most important thing for the Villanova community is to feel safe. Whether that be from outside threats or, in the near future, from having guns on campus, safety is the primary concern.  This transition is no minor incident for Villanova and should not be treated as such from university officials. By keeping students and faculty informed throughout every decision in this transition, the Villanova community can proceed with less fear and more confidence that the switch may ultimately be the right decision.