As Campus Cheers On Ga. Tech Police, Some Struggle To Grieve

Lisa Hagen / WABE

It’s college tour season. On Friday, a dozen prospective students stroll through the Georgia Tech campus. Some pass by colorful chalk messages on the sidewalk that say “We are one GT” and “We love GTPD.”

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It’s been just over a week since Georgia Tech police shot and killed a student on campus. Days later, two officers sustained minor injuries during clashes with protesters after a vigil.

An online fundraiser for those campus officers raised more than $10,000 in just a few days last week.

You don’t have to be part of the Tech community to donate, of course, but student Phillip Yamin said plenty are. He started the GoFundMe.

“I see a good number of comments that basically self-declare that they’re either a student, parent of a student or alumnus that go to Tech,” Yamin said.

On social media, hundreds have been sharing stories about positive interactions with campus police. Times they’ve felt protected. Times when officers were lenient with undergrads who maybe weren’t quite behaving like model students.

It’s clear there’s a lot of genuine love and respect for some of these officers, especially after a clash with protesters last Monday.

“We were seeing videos of these protesters ganging up around a squad car and torching it and our reaction, unanimously, is this is not what Georgia Tech’s about,” Yamin said.

His sentiment contains echoes of the school’s president, Bud Peterson, who issued a statement after the unrest.

“We believe many of [the protesters] were not part of our Georgia Tech community, but rather outside agitators intent on disrupting the [vigil],” Peterson said. “They certainly did not honor Scout’s memory nor represent our values by doing so.”

Many students WABE spoke with disagree with Peterson’s characterization of “outside agitators” being behind Monday’s disturbance. Some who were there recognized many of their fellow students.

For those who were close to Scout Schultz, the student who was killed, all the gushing over campus police feels tough.

“It’s impossible to avoid, really,” said August Wagner, a third-year student at tech. He was friends with Scout, and he hasn’t been getting a lot of sleep since last weekend.

“There’s like, banners in some of the residence halls around here that say ‘We support GTPD’ and stuff like that, which is just making it a lot harder to even be here,” Wagner said.

Wagner said it feels like his classmates are thanking the institution that killed his friend.

“I did not think it would be so bad and that people would lack so much empathy, or only have sympathy for a burnt car,” he said.

Investigators found suicide notes in Schultz’s dorm room, and say the student called 911 to report a suspicious person. Schultz described someone who may have been armed with a knife and possibly a gun.

On Friday, a group of concerned Georgia Tech professors organized a teach-in in the student center. About 70 students and faculty discussed policing, mental health access and accommodations for LGBT students with invited speakers.

“What’s the impact been on this campus? What have you felt since Saturday?” asked panel facilitator Che Johnson-Long with Solutions Not Another Punishment Coalition. “Fear, pain, frustration, deep sadness, disappointment,” came the students’ responses.

LGBT students talked about not having anywhere to gather as a community. Pride Alliance, which Schultz was president of, was one of many groups that lost its office space due to a reshuffle last year, according to students. The school’s LGBTQIA Resource Center is a converted closet. Others said the barriers to apply for gender-inclusive housing were unacceptable.

Many described poor access to the school’s counseling center. They talked about waiting more than a month for a first appointment.

An article in the school paper written in 2011 reported that at least one Tech student a year takes their own life. It’s important to note that researchers find people in their college years anywhere are at particular risk for suicidal thoughts.

Georgia Tech launched an initiative called “zero suicide” last year. The school declined WABE’s requests for an interview with the administration or anyone from its counseling center.

As the meeting began to wind down, professor Anne Pollock, who helped organize the teach-in, made an announcement.

“We have just received notification that the building is being closed at 3, which I think is the kind of culture of fear that we’re talking about,” Pollock said.

The student center doesn’t usually close at 3 on Friday.

“They were very worried that Antifa would take over our event or something like that,” said Pollock, who had been in close touch with campus police.

Asked about the building lock-out, Georgia Tech officials put out a statement. “Since Monday’s activities, we’ve had an increased level of security on campus,” it read.

Outside, a police helicopter hovered above a few dozen students gathered in memory of Schultz. They had planned a sit-in in another building, but, like at the student center, police had locked them out.

So the students marched, chanting “Whose Tech? Scout’s Tech!”

“Harambe!” a nearby student shouted, a reference to a gorilla killed last year at the Cincinnati Zoo. His friends giggled at the joke.

Schultz’s friends ignored them and stuck together.

President Peterson released another statement late Saturday after discussions with student groups saying he plans to appoint four “Institute-wide ‘Action Teams,’” to discuss improvements to “counseling and psychiatric services; campus culture; LGBT+ community issues; and campus safety.” Those teams are expected to submit recommendations by November.