We are Buckeye Strong
When the resilience of our community is tested, as it was in November, the Ohio State family’s connections and commitments prove as steadfast as ever. “Our strength as alumni is in our sense of connection,” says Jim Smith, president and CEO of the alumni association.
The car knocked Professor Emeritus William Clark off his feet. Shaken, he pulled himself off the ground and noticed everyone around him was hurrying toward Watts Hall. He mustered the strength to follow.
Clark didn’t see what was happening behind him, but he knew it wasn’t good. He moved through the door, down the steps and into a room in the building’s basement, where he took a seat and propped up his leg.
“I didn’t realize how badly I was bleeding until someone pointed it out,” said Clark, who suffered two deep gashes in his right ankle. Blood was pooling on the ground under his leg. Students comforted him and tracked down paramedics, who quickly applied a tourniquet and sent him off to the hospital.
Clark is one of 13 Buckeyes who were injured in the Nov. 28 incident that put Ohio State at the top of national news reports and social media feeds throughout the day and in the days that followed. None of the injuries were life-threatening.
From the help he received from students and medics on the scene to the more than 150 emails that have filled his inbox since, Clark said he’s been overwhelmed by support from Buckeye Nation, including students he helped shepherd through the materials science and engineering program before his retirement in 2014.
Clark, who was back on campus fall semester and at Watts Hall that day to co-teach a metallurgy course, said the ability of Buckeyes to rally together and lift up their own is one of the school’s special traits.
“It’s an Ohio State thing,” said Clark, who was a full-time faculty member for 35 years. “And I’ve always felt it’s one of the things that makes this university stand out from many others.”
True to that sentiment, more than 500 students, faculty, staff and community members came together at St. John Arena the night after the incident for an event dubbed Buckeye Strong. They heard from campus leaders, including President Michael V. Drake, who expressed pride in how members of the university community responded with help and support for victims such as Clark and each other.
“From time to time,” Drake told the crowd, “things happen that are unfortunate or that are hurtful to us. When those things happen, what really works for us is to come together in a spirit of unity.”
Quick response limits harm
For alumni and students, that Monday was the first day back to work and school after the long Thanksgiving weekend. On top of that, it was the first day back after the football team’s exhilarating double-overtime win over Michigan.
It was a gray day in Columbus, but the sun was shining brightly for Buckeyes everywhere — until just before 10 a.m.
That’s when third-year student Abdul Razak Ali Artan, who had transferred to Ohio State in August, steered his car into a group of people, including Clark, standing in the courtyard next to Watts Hall. They were waiting to re-enter the building after a fire alarm. After the vehicle collided with several pedestrians, witnesses said, Artan emerged from his car with a knife and began stabbing people. Ohio State Police Officer Alan Horujko, already there because of the fire alarm, quickly took action.
“The first officer was on scene and actually witnessed what happened and was able to respond to the threat within a minute,” said Chief Craig Stone of Ohio State’s Police Division.
In less than two minutes, the university issued a Buckeye Alert to notify campus of an emergency and advise people to shelter in place. In all, nine Buckeye Alerts and multiple messages went out via text message, email, social media, news media and on the website emergency.osu.edu to keep the campus community and parents updated throughout the day.
While the attack ended quickly when Artan was fatally shot, campus police and numerous other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, responded to the incident. They remained on the scene for hours to ensure that campus was safe. Medics from the Columbus Division of Fire treated the injured and rushed some to hospitals, including Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center.
Two hours in November
Fire alarm sounds in MacQuigg Laboratory (connected to Watts Hall) due to a gas leak, sending occupants of several buildings outside.
Officer on scene reports to dispatch that a vehicle has run over six or seven pedestrians; officer calls for backup.
When suspect does not comply, officer shoots and kills suspect.
The first of nine Buckeye Alerts is issued to campus advising people to shelter in place.
Final Buckeye Alert reports shelter in place order is lifted and classes are canceled for the day.
Monica Moll, who started her job as director of the university’s Department of Public Safety in late October, said the rapid and coordinated response limited damage caused by the attacker. While no community ever wants to see violence on its campus, she said, Ohio State works hard to ensure it is prepared to protect students.
“We understand this is not just your school, it is your home,” she told students at the Buckeye Strong event. “This is where you live and learn. We take our responsibility of keeping you safe seriously and appreciate your help moving forward.”
Chief Stone said university police train many hours to be prepared for emergency situations. Officers undergo active-shooter training annually, and the force’s Special Response Team gets additional training for various scenarios.
Police Division representatives also speak to classes and staff groups about how to prepare for an active threat. In 2015, the Department of Public Safety issued a video to the campus community on how to deal with such threats. It included the concept “Run. Hide. Fight.” — a registered trademark of the city of Houston and steps public safety officials advise people to take if faced with an active threat. Those words were included in the initial Buckeye Alerts that went out that Monday.
Moll said her department, in following best practice, is reviewing all functions related to preparedness and response to active threats, and it plans to use the lessons learned to enhance training for students, faculty and staff. Other goals stemming from the review include improving coordination within the university’s emergency operations center and expanding the reach and effectiveness of Buckeye Alerts.
Talks yield greater understanding
Ohio State’s chief diversity officer, Sharon Davies, said this tragedy prompted the university to reflect on the diverse and inclusive community it strives to be.
Davies, who leads Ohio State’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, said when an African American or Muslim commits a violent act, “it is more likely to be seen as typical of their racial group or religion. Our brains are less likely to make that same discriminatory leap when the perpetrator is white or Christian.”
That’s the kind of reaction freshman Hajira Dahir feared when she learned the attacker was of Somali descent and Muslim, like her. Dahir listened intently to Drake and other speakers at the Buckeye Strong event. Afterward, she explained that she initially felt awkward on the day of the tragedy, but her concerns were quickly allayed.
“What I saw yesterday was everyone was focused on the safety of students and staff,” said Dahir, who was born and raised in Columbus. Dahir, whose sister Nasra Dahir ’13 is a graduate student, added that she feels “very welcome” in the Ohio State community. She said she prays for the injured and that “nothing like this happens ever again anywhere.”
When asked what she wanted alumni to know, Dahir said, “We’re recovering. It’s going to take time for us to get back to where we were, but we’re good. And if you know of anyone out there who feels depressed or isn’t doing so great, just give them a helping hand, give them a connection.”
Angie Huggins, a doctoral student in engineering from Venezuela, works in the complex of buildings connected to Watts Hall, where the incident took place. She said she’s thankful the university provides resources, such as counseling and support, to help students cope in times of crisis.
“You feel better because you feel part of a community that’s helping each other,” she said. “In spite of the terrible thing that happened, we’re still here standing, and we’re not going to let this bring us down.”
Second-year student Gretchen Klingler, a U.S. Air Force veteran, echoed that sentiment. She attended the Buckeye Strong event with fellow members of the student veterans group Vets4Vets, of which she’s president. “Not only are we together as veterans here,” she said that night, “we’re together as Buckeyes as well.”
Klingler said she found it helpful to talk about what happened. Two of her professors allowed students to discuss their feelings in open forums when classes resumed the next day.
“We’ve had fairly extensive discussions about things,” she said. “Within my major, within anthropology, something we really try to focus on is to understand things as a whole perspective.” Those discussions and personal conversations with friends gave her an opportunity to express her firm belief that “one person does not represent a whole group.”
That approach, Davies explained, is pervasive at Ohio State.
“We are fortunate that our university community is filled with Buckeyes who are supportive of each other across multiple lines of difference,” Davies said, “and we are determined to keep our campus a place that is welcoming to all. The exceptions are just that — exceptions — and we must not lose sight of that.”
Staff encourages expression
Micky Sharma, Student Life’s director of counseling and consultation service, said that while Ohio State continues to be a very safe campus, violent events like this can be unnerving for students.
“After something like this happens in a campus community,” Sharma said, “it really can shatter one’s sense of safety. And it can take time for people to feel safe again traveling outside. That’s normal. That can be expected.”
Student Life made counselors available for walk-in sessions at the Ohio Union, RPAC recreation center and two standing locations in the days following the attack. After that, counseling continued to be available at the two usual locations. Sharma said the sessions were designed to give students healthy strategies for coping and to make sure they were aware that whatever they were feeling was fine.
He added that feelings can wax and wane over time. When those feelings start to affect you more days than not, he said, that’s when counseling is a good idea.
Even if they didn’t choose the free counseling, students were able to find support all around.
“On this campus,” Sharma said, “we have an incredibly strong spirit. Being a Buckeye means something to our students. It means something very real. Having that builds a sense of connection with your fellow Buckeyes, with your fellow students. That’s the way in which we support one another.”
Javaune Adams-Gaston, the university’s senior vice president for student life, said that kind of support extends beyond campus to alumni across the country and around the world. Adams-Gaston, known to students as Dr. J, said Buckeye Nation comes together like no other community.
“On Nov. 28,” she said, “it showed up in the thousands of alumni who reached out with messages of caring and support. It manifested in students caring for others, both physically and emotionally. It was demonstrated in the way our entire campus organically re-centered itself to respond to danger and support one another.”
Alumni show their support
While authorities worked to clear the crime scene that day, those of us watching and listening to news reports and reading social media posts searched for answers. We’ve seen scenes like this play out in schools and on college campuses far too often in recent memory, and this time, it was playing out on our campus.
Wherever you were that day and whatever you were doing, chances are you paused to find out whatever you could. You tuned in. You texted. You called. And you connected with fellow alumni for comfort and to unite in the midst of tragedy.
“Our strength as alumni is in our sense of connection,” said Jim Smith, president and CEO of The Ohio State University Alumni Association. “‘Buckeye Strong’ means that we persevere.
“Alumni are a critical part of the Ohio State family. And when tragedy hits, we act like a family: We pick up the phone, we call home, we check in on one another, we see how we can help.”
Hundreds of alumni wrote to Smith and the alumni association to express their emotions and offer their support, including Sherry Bucolo.
“I graduated in 1973 and now live in California,” Bucolo said. “But when the news hit, I felt a part of the community still, almost 44 years later.”
Danielle Minson ’94, of Cincinnati, wrote: “My heart is with you, the students and all of Buckeye Nation, at this time and always.”
Shawn Ramsey ’84 was at work in Dallas that morning. She immediately heard from a couple of friends — one a fellow Ohio State graduate — who were troubled by the news and wanted her to know that Buckeyes were in their thoughts.
Ramsey, a public relations executive, said she was impressed with the way Ohio State reacted on social media as the situation unfolded. Ramsey, who’s taken part in corporate training exercises for similar scenarios, said the Buckeye Alerts the university sent via social media and other means did what they were supposed to do — quickly spread the word and keep people safe. She described them as “tweets heard ’round the Buckeye world.”
Ramsey said she responded to the news not only as an alumna, but as a concerned parent of two college students. Her son attends Texas A&M University, and her daughter is at the University of Arkansas.
“I’m always thinking about dangers they may face even though a learning environment theoretically should be a safe environment,” she said. “But today’s reality is that these kinds of attacks can happen anywhere. It’s scary and sad.”
While those on campus that day were buoyed most by the reassurances of alumni, friends and loved ones, support also poured in from professional athletes, entertainers, elected officials and everyday people who sent thoughts and prayers to Ohio State and the victims. The week after the incident, President-elect Donald Trump visited campus to meet privately with those injured, their families and first responders.
We move forward together
Our recovery from that day is ongoing. The injured will continue to recuperate. Law enforcement officials will continue to investigate why this happened. The university will continue to prepare for emergency situations. And members of the Ohio State community will continue to be there for each other.
“As a university community,” Smith said, “our greatest strength lies in our ability to rally together. We do it in good times — at Buckeye Bash parties and when our athletic teams are victorious — and we unite, support each other and find comfort together in times of difficulty. That’s exactly what we’re doing now.”
Bob Beasley ’94 studied journalism at Ohio State and works in the communications field in Columbus. Justin Moss, Kristen Convery, Mary Alice Casey and Craig Lovelace contributed to this report.
To assist students
In the days since Nov. 28, many alumni have expressed a desire to help Ohio State students cope in times of trouble. Information about the Margaret Herlan Busch Student Assistance Fund can be found at go.osu.edu/StudentAssistanceFund.