There’s a vast array of personalities on any college campus.
There are new freshmen trying to find their way in life. There are graduate students eyeing the future employment world.
Fort Hays State University is no different than any other Regents’ institution in the state.
It deals with all aspects of students, and sometimes, those students have needs that might fly under the radar until it’s too late.
Compounding that issue, school officials know college can be stressful and allows the students to succumb to the pressures of alcohol, drugs and other harmful devices.
“I think definitely depression and anxiety are more prevalent now,” said Gina Smith, director of the Kelly Center on the FHSU campus that deals with personal issues of students. “Most of the students at Fort Hays work and go to class. There’s a lot on their minds. We see a lot of anxiety and depression. We do a lot of referrals. I’m not sure our campus looks differently than others with anxiety and depression.”
Then throw in the mix of concealed carry — which will be available on college campuses in the state starting July 1, 2017 — and things have the potential to escalate quickly.
“I would definitely say there are concerns for me,” Smith said. “When you have students live close in the residential halls and socializing, if alcohol is involved, maybe a fight that would just be words could escalate with a gun available. I worry about if someone is depressed and suicidal and there’s a gun in the room or the friends have a gun.”
Smith isn’t alone, but it hasn’t stopped Kansas Board of Regents representatives and state legislators from going ahead with the implementation of the concealed carry law in 2017 on campuses.
Starting July 1 of that year, anyone 21 and older on campuses can carry concealed handguns. The decision was approved unanimously by KBOR.
Universities in the state are in the final months of a four-year exemption of the law.
There are some scenarios where people cannot carry, if there is a metal detector or security guard present in entrances to buildings.
“As a president, based on being a mother, I have concerns as to how the law might affect our enrollment,” said FHSU President Mirta Martin. “We have done an inordinate amount of work to brand this university as the destination of choice, to brand this university as one of the safest campuses in America, to attract individuals, to grow our university. I don’t know that it will affect us, but it is a contingency that I now have to address, which is how will parents feel about sending their child to not just Fort Hays but to Kansas?”
The law has put FHSU officials in a tough spot. They must obey the law, but they also must keep students safe from possible violence or self-harm.
“As a president of Fort Hays State University, my responsibility is to implement the law of the land, and we have put forth a committee to implement the law, and we will implement the law,” Martin said.
“Taking my hat off as the president of Fort Hays State University, as a mother, I have some concerns. I am housing at FHSU the Kansas Academy of Math and Sciences, which is home to 15- and 16-year-olds. As a mother, it’s already taxing enough on me to let go of my 15- and 16-year-old two years before going to school. So as a mother, I don’t know how I would feel about sending my 15-year-old to a campus where guns were permitted.”
FHSU officials said they know the Second Amendment allows citizens to keep and bear arms under the U.S. Constitution. They don’t want to take away those rights.
Instead, they think the exemption of concealed carry on campus is a better policy and doesn’t trample on anyone’s rights while still keeping safety a priority.
“I’m not aware of any issues with not allowing them,” Smith said. “Myself, I feel safe seeing signs on campus saying we don’t allow guns. … Fort Hays is a safe campus.”
In a Docking Institute survey released in January, 60 percent of FHSU students taking part in a poll said they would like the law amended so guns are not allowed on campus. Nine percent said they would like to keep the law the way it is but extended the exemption beyond 2017, and 19 percent said the current law should be allowed to expire.
Smith said the law leaves a lot to be desired, especially in her line of work.
“I think there’s a lot of issues to consider,” she said. “Young adulthood is a very stressful time in life. We used to think 18- to 19-year-olds were fully developed. Now it’s in the 22 to 23 age range. There’s a difference in maturity level. A lot of changes go on in that time period.”