The problem with the campus closure: The intentions for the campus closure and evacuation may have been to protect us, but it put students and faculty in danger

On Friday, Oct. 5, DePaul Public Safety sent out an email, text message and phone call to alert students and faculty that the Loop campus would close immediately. This was approximately 20 minutes before the verdict in the Jason Van Dyke trial was expected to be announced, but not a single form of communication that was shared with students and faculty explained why the Loop campus was closing besides the incoming verdict, which many Chicagoans predicted that he would be found guilty.

Faculty and students were evacuated from every building in the Loop campus and sent out onto the streets with no expectation for what they were about to see. Many were upset that they were being thrown out into a potentially dangerous situation. DePaul Public Safety wrote in a text message, “Van Dyke verdict expected at 1:45 p.m. DePaul’s Loop Campus will be closed immediately. Lincoln Park Campus to remain open. Updates will be shared when available,” which made many feel as though DePaul assumed Van Dyke was going to be found innocent because he was a white police officer.

State Street alone had multiple groups of police officers ready to stand their ground against any angry protesters after the verdict if Van Dyke was indeed declared innocent. Instead, the Chicago Police Department watched as one of their own was convicted of second-degree murder and 16 accounts of aggravated battery. Demonstrators marched through the Loop in solidarity and celebration that Van Dyke had been convicted.

But the decision to close down the Loop campus did not sit well with the students and faculty already on campus, as well as those who were traveling to campus.

“The most frustrating part was that they told us 20 minutes before the verdict came out,” said student Eema Siddiqui. “I was working so I didn’t check my phone or my email until someone came in like five minutes before the verdict and said we had to get out of the building.”

When many received the email, they were either on their way to campus to work on assignments or already in class and were not happy to find out that the campus was closing for this reason. Many came to find out that there was a fear of riots because no one knew how the verdict would play out.

DePaul jumped the gun with the closure, and the school’s reasoning discomforted many students and faculty. Many believed that Van Dyke was going to be found innocent, and they wanted to be ready for the riots that might have ensued.

The campus let hundreds of students and faculty loose on the streets just 15 minutes before the verdict, and the potentially dangerous atmosphere could have put them in an unfortunate and preventable situation.

DePaul Public Safety Director Bob Wachowski did not respond to multiple emails asking for comment. The DePaulia wanted to know if any other options were considered, like a shelter-in-place that would keep everyone inside the building until further instructions were given. Shelter-in-places can be helpful when the effects of an event are unforeseeable. Instead of a complete campus closure, a shelter-in-place would have made more sense and kept students safe from the potential riots just outside the doors.

“I liked that they sent out an alert to inform us of what was going on,” said student Marina Gaglio. “I do think they could have done a better job at keeping everyone safe even though nothing occurred. I would have rather been told to stay where I was than being thrown out onto the streets.”

In the future, perhaps DePaul will approach a situation like this in a better and more informed way. This experience should be used as a learning tool for how to improve safety efforts. If something did occur, the university would have had significantly more explaining to do.