Scores of faculty, staff and students gathered at UC Merced on Wednesday to stand in solidarity with those shaken last week after a young man killed and wounded students at a sister campus.
Those attending the gathering signed a banner, hung a wreath and observed a moment of silence for the three students who were stabbed to death, three who were fatally shot and 13 others who were wounded Friday night in a rampage at University of California at Santa Barbara. The campus and UC Merced are part of the University of California system.
“It really struck home for me, and Isla Vista hasn’t been home for 10 years,” said Jason Souza, 35, director of dining services at UC Merced. “It really surprised me how much it got to me.”
Souza, who graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2001, said there is a strong sense of community in the cities that surround the school, Isla Vista and Goleta. He was also going to school there in February 2001 when student David Attias used his car to kill four people.
“You can’t live in constant fear, like this is going to happen tomorrow,” Souza said. “But at the same time, as a society, we can’t necessarily live in a bubble and just assume it’s never going to happen to us.”
Last week’s attack was committed by Elliot Rodger, 22, a community college student who had posted an Internet video outlining his plan to slaughter as many people as possible. He had legally obtained three semi-automatic handguns and still had 400 unspent rounds of ammunition when he shot himself to death, authorities said.
Several people who took part in UC Merced’s ceremony wore UC Santa Barbara’s trademark colors, blue and gold, to show support. Alyssa Avila, a 2011 alumna of the school, wore a T-shirt emblazoned with its seal.
Now a program coordinator for the Violence Prevention Program at UC Merced, Avila said she has many friends still living near UC Santa Barbara. “A lot of them were expressing shock and surprise, and that feeling that this place they call home didn’t feel safe anymore,” the 24-year-old said.
College campuses can never be too prepared, Avila added. “You really do the best that you can, but in the end you just can’t predict it,” she said.
Many of the people who gathered for the moment of silence at UC Merced also signed a banner that said “Gaucho Strong,” a reference to UC Santa Barbara’s mascot and to a Twitter hashtag that has been used to support students. Classes at UC Santa Barbara resumed Wednesday.
UC Merced academic adviser Jesus Jimenez, 30, scribbled his support on the banner. The 2006 graduate described his alma mater as a place of “camaraderie.”
While watching news coverage, he said, he saw places where he had once stood. It reminded him that an act of violence can happen anywhere, he said, and is cause for concern at UC Merced. “This is just becoming a common occurrence that we have to think more about,” he said.
Jimenez said the violence also reinforced his desire to go back to school and work toward becoming a psychologist, and be able to help troubled people someday. “We are not doing enough when it comes to mental health,” he said.
UC Merced officials said the school has protocols in place and asks students to speak up whenever they see signs of troubled or disturbed students or school employees.
Incoming students go through a number of workshops and orientation meetings during Welcome Week and are encouraged to report any unusual or potentially dangerous behavior to school authority figures, said Le’Trice Curl, director of Student Life and Judicial Affairs for UC Merced.