When students received an email on Aug. 27 from Janet Lindner, Yale’s deputy vice president for human resources and administration, reminding them that possessing a weapon while on campus is strictly forbidden, most of them discarded it as irrelevant.
But for Taylor Eldridge ’16, it was a “laughable contradiction” to an experience she had earlier this summer.
In June, Eldridge witnessed a firearm being drawn in the Morse-Stiles walkway. A white man in his mid-20s, unaffiliated with Yale, threatened a group of three black teenagers with the weapon after a rowdy confrontation, according to a Yale Police Department report. Confused and concerned, Eldridge said she walked into Morse College, but when she returned to the original location, she saw police officers from both the YPD and the New Haven Police Department. After being interviewed, the man was issued a warning and told not to return to campus. However, Eldridge, concerned that the community was not informed about the incident, set up meetings with YPD Chief Ronnell Higgins, Master of Yale Summer Session Joel Silverman and Lindner. According to Eldridge, as a result, Yale has changed its policy on communicating crimes involving firearms..
“[Lindner] told me that, if an incident like this, involving a firearm on campus, happens again, they will inform the whole Yale community,” she said.
Lindner did not respond to a request for confirmation of the change in policy on Thursday, and no policy about communicating crimes involving firearms has been articulated publicly.
Andy Pelosi, president of a national campaign to keep guns off of college campuses, said it is not ordinary for universities to follow a protocol of informing students when a firearm is found on campus, except in situations that pose an active threat to students. In 2007, after the Virginia Tech Massacre, a state-commissioned independent review board recommended that all universities install a system that informs students when an active shooter is on campus.
The University, through its Yale Alert system, offers that service to students, with its most prominent use occurring two years ago when the threat of an active shooter during the 2013 Thanksgiving break caused the University to go on lockdown.
However, Eldridge said the policy of only informing students when there is an active threat is not enough.
“Yale should be a more informed community,” she said. “We have a right to know whether something is going on, on campus.”
Yet, in a survey sent by the News at the beginning of the month, 96 percent of respondents said they felt sufficiently informed about crime on campus through the safety alert emails sent by Higgins.
Currently, University policy prohibits all weapons on campus, irrespective of whether the owner holds a federal license, similar to other colleges in Connecticut and most private universities across the country. In her Aug. 27 email, Lindner said possession of weapons at any location could be grounds for discipline, and that appropriate disciplinary action — up to and including termination for staff or expulsion for students, and criminal proceedings against any persons who violate the policy — would be taken if the regulations were violated.
Assistant YPD Chiefs Michael Patten and Steve Woznyk said during a parent safety orientation that Lindner felt the need to remind students of the weapons policy after some students asked their deans if they could bring a weapon to campus when they returned for the fall semester. Patten and Woznyk referenced the email after one parent asked whether her son or daughter could carry a weapon for protection.
Yale’s regulations also prohibit visitors from carrying weapons, which Pelosi acknowledged can make the discussion about weapons on campus challenging, particularly in urban areas where residents have ready access to campus grounds.
In the case that Eldridge witnessed, the man with the firearm was a visitor. In an email to students enrolled in Yale Summer Session and living on campus, Silverman reiterated the no-weapons policy.
“The man did have a valid permit to carry his weapon, but Yale Police have instructed him never to return to campus with his gun, because Yale has a strict no-weapons policy,” Silverman wrote.
Eldridge does not know whether or not the new communications policy that she had discussed with Lindner will be enforced.
According to the Daily Crime Log published by the YPD, since June, there have been no incidents on campus involving a firearm in which a campus-wide email would have been sent under the new policy.
“I sincerely hope we never have to find out that there was another gun on campus,” Eldridge said.
The unlawful possession of a weapon on school grounds is noted as a Class D felony in current Connecticut law.