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College students assess how safe they feel after recent shootings

"Guys I'm so f******* scared," was displayed in all red capital letters across the front page of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, on Wednesday. The gut-wrenching front page captured text messages that students sent and received as the UNC-Chapel Hill campus was gripped by an active shooter situation on Monday afternoon.

Police allege that Tailei Qi, a graduate student in science, walked into a laboratory building and shot and killed his faculty adviser, associate professor Zijie Yan. Qi was arrested a short time later.

The front page graphic captures the students' panic during the incident.

"I heard someone got shot."

"Can you hear any gunshots?"

"Please stay safe."

"Hey- come on sweetheart- I need to hear from you."

"My teacher is acting like nothing is happening and I'm lowkey freaking out."

"Are you okay?"

The Tar Heel front page grabbed the attention of millions on social media, including President Joe Biden.

"No student, no parent, and no American should have to send texts like these to their loved ones as they hide from a shooter," President Biden wrote.

Emmy Martin, editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel, was crouched behind a wall in a nearby building during the shooting.

"We wanted everyone on campus and beyond our campus to feel like they were seeing the true events of that day in our coverage," Martin told Morning Edition.

The shooting at UNC followed another fatal rampage two days earlier in Jacksonville, Fla., when a white gunman shot and killed three Black people at a Dollar General store. He had earlier appeared on the campus of Edward Waters University, one of the nation's historically Black colleges and universities. But he led after he was approached by a security guard.

Another HBCU, Howard University in Washington, D.C. has seen three bomb threats since last year. The most recent came during Black History Month in February.

Howard officials say they're stepping up security, but not specifically in connection with the threat of mass shootings. There were two altercations on Howard premises recently. And in one case, a student was stabbed, non-fatally, outside a dorm. In response, university administrators say they plan to install 1,000 new security cameras.

So, how do college students feel about being on campus following these events?

NPR's Destinee Adams and Ally Schweitzer spoke with several students on the Howard campus on Wednesday following the shootings in Chapel Hill and Jacksonville.

Howard University, Fall 2023
Ally Schweitzer / NPR
Howard University, Fall 2023

Howard students share their thoughts.

Elisabeth Beuse, freshman

On campus, I feel safe. There are some instances, like at night, where I am just worried because I am a woman. But overall, I feel like campus security has a pretty good grasp on the grounds and that they do a good job of keeping people who are not supposed to be on campus outside of you.

Tyler Brown, junior

I feel like because lately there's been a lot of like anti-Black sentiment. I think it's a lot scarier to just exist being Black on a campus.

Brady Dye, senior

I feel like as Americans, that's just something we live with as a reality. It's a horrible reality. But if I allow that to affect my life, I'm never gonna be able to live the way I just want to live.

Robert Kelly, sophomore

I just feel that this attack on Blackness, this attack on Black safety, is really concerning as an emerging professional, as an emerging Black leader, just as a Black man in general trying to pursue higher education.

Asiya Sadeq, senior

It just makes me more aware of my surroundings in the way that I have to protect myself. Because I don't feel like my university will.

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Ally Schweitzer (she/her) is an editor with NPR's Morning Edition. She joined the show in October 2022 after eight years at WAMU, the NPR affiliate in Washington.
Destinee Adams
Destinee Adams (she/her) is a temporary news assistant for Morning Edition and Up First. In May 2022, a month before joining Morning Edition, she earned a bachelor's degree in Multimedia Journalism at Oklahoma State University. During her undergraduate career, she interned at the Stillwater News Press (Okla.) and participated in NPR's Next Generation Radio. In 2020, she wrote about George Floyd's impact on Black Americans, and in the following years she covered transgender identity and unpopular Black history in the South. Adams was born and raised in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.