18 Leading Higher Education Research Centers and Institutes Call for Knowledge on Campus Shootings

October 19, 2015

Three Penn GSE research centers — the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy, the Center for the Study of Race & Equity in Education, and the Institute for Research on Higher Education — join this call for knowledge about gun violence on college and university campuses: 

"The deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history occurred on a university campus. In 2007, a Virginia Tech student killed 32 peers and faculty members before taking his life.

Earlier this month, an assailant walked into a classroom at Umpqua Community College, shot and killed nine students, injured nine others, and ultimately killed himself. This massacre is one of 66 reported incidents involving the discharge of firearms on college and university campuses since 2013.

Despite the alarming numbers of deaths, injuries, and threats, scholars in the field of higher education have received too few resources to rigorously study the undercurrents and effects of gun violence on college campuses. Eighteen leading university-based higher education research centers and institutes call on foundations, federal and state governments, and entities on all sides of gun violence debates to sponsor research projects that expand knowledge in the field about important topics like the following:

  • Depression, mental health, and suicide among college students.
  • Effective prevention efforts to identify and preemptively support students, faculty, and staff members who are in psychological distress.
  • Behavioral responses to fears concerning campus safety among students, faculty, and staff.
  • Impact of gun violence on students’ academic performance, persistence and degree completion rates, and post-college outcomes.
  • The overrepresentation of college men among campus shooters.
  • Enrollment patterns and college transition experiences of students who witnessed and survived shootings in their K-12 schools and home communities.
  • Gun ownership policies at public institutions of higher education that are governed by different state laws regarding background checks, gun permit waiting periods, carrying concealed weapons in public, and other regulations.
  • Evaluations of campus safety protocols and procedures at community colleges and four-year postsecondary institutions.
  • Immediate and long-term effects of campus shootings on the psychological and physiological wellness of students, faculty, and staff, including longitudinal studies.
  • Impact of open- and concealed-carry laws on classroom climates and campus cultures.
  • Influence of television and films, video games, social and digital media, and violence in the larger society on campus shootings.
  • How cultures and discourses of disrespect, bullying, isolation, inequity, and hate contribute to gun violence on campus.

These are examples of 12 topics on which research is urgently warranted; several other related questions should be rigorously studied. Knowing more could enable postsecondary leaders and faculty to reduce gun violence, more effectively support members of campus communities in the aftermath of shooting tragedies, and use data and technologies to improve campus safety efforts.

Political disagreements have stifled forward movement on issues related to gun violence in U.S. higher education. Meanwhile, shootings continue to occur in college classrooms and other campus spaces. Providing resources to expand what the field knows could yield an evidence-based set of policies and practices that make campuses safer and better positioned to support victims of shooting tragedies."

Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy
University of Pennsylvania

The Bowen Institute for Policy Studies in Higher Education
Claremont Graduate University 

Center for Community College Student Engagement
 University of Texas at Austin

Center for Higher Education Enterprise
 The Ohio State University

Center for Postsecondary Success
Florida State University

Center for Research on Undergraduate Education
 University of Iowa

Center for Studies in Higher Education
University of California, Berkeley

 Center for the Study of Higher Education
University of Arizona 

Center for the Study of Higher Education
The Pennsylvania State University

 Center for the Study of Race & Equity in Education
University of Pennsylvania

 Center for Urban Education
University of Southern California

 Higher Education Research Institute
University of California, Los Angeles

Institute for Research on Higher Education
University of Pennsylvania

Minority Male Community College Collaborative
San Diego State University

Pullias Center for Higher Education
University of Southern California

The Steinhardt Institute for Higher Education Policy
New York University

Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education
University of Wisconsin – Madison

Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory
University of Wisconsin – Madison


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