Leadership & Governance

Texas Begins Allowing Guns on Campuses on Monday. Here’s What Public Colleges Are Saying.

August 01, 2016

A Texas law allowing people with concealed-carry licenses to bring their weapons on college campuses is slated to go into effect for public four-year institutions on Monday.

The state’s colleges and universities have been communicating their policies on the new law to students, faculty, and staff members for several months. But those communication strategies take on added urgency now that "campus carry" is the law, and students are preparing to arrive for the new academic year.

Margarita Venegas, news manager at the University of North Texas, said the institution had incorporated training sessions into orientation for new students, faculty, and staff on what the law says and where the university has gun-free zones.

"That entails going over a little bit about what is SB 11, the actual law itself," Ms. Venegas said of the training sessions. "What does it outline? What does it allow for? What does it not allow? For example, there has been confusion about what is open-carry versus what is commonly known as campus-carry. So we want to educate people."

Ms. Venegas said that people might be concerned about the idea of guns on campuses, so the administration has been directing students to bring their concerns to the office of the dean of students. Concerned faculty and staff members should reach out to the human-resources department, she said.

This is "so that not only does everyone feel well educated, but if they have concerns, we can work with them to allay those before this policy starts or when they get to campus," Ms. Venegas said.

A majority of the university’s information on the new law on Monday is going out on social media, "to be sure that this information is available to our new and incoming students, who may not be on campus yet, who may not have their emails set up yet," Ms. Venegas said. The university will distribute short videos, featuring the campus police chief explaining the law and policies, not only to students but to the community at large in anticipation of visitors to the campus.

Eric Gerber, executive director of university communication at the University of Houston, said all students, faculty, and staff members there will receive an email on Monday from the campus police chief about the right to bring concealed weapons to the campus, and there will be additional information on the university website’s home page.

The most visible change at the university will be about 1,000 new signs around the campus designating which zones are excluded from the new gun policy. (Increased signage is one of the added expenses, both big and small, that the new law is expected to bring to Texas colleges.)

But this isn’t a one-day communication campaign, Mr. Gerber said. When the academic year begins, the university will expand its efforts to inform people about bringing guns to the campus. That includes adding information to CougarSAFE, the university’s communications program for safety and security issues, including crime, extreme weather, sexual misconduct, and traffic.

Part of Orientation

"We don’t want to sensationalize the subject of campus carry, but it is important that everyone on campus clearly understand its significance," Mr. Gerber said in an email. He added that the university includes material and presentations about guns on the campus in new-student and new-employee orientations.

Chris Cook, managing director of the Office of Communications and Marketing at Texas Tech University, said that the institution’s communications regarding the new law will be integrated into existing programming for students, including orientation and the student government’s Safety Week. He also said the campus police department had updated its training video for active-shooter situations to include information about the campus-carry policy.

Gary Susswein, executive director of media relations and issues management at the University of Texas at Austin, said most of the university’s correspondence over the summer regarding the new policy has been with faculty members. The university has been emailing them and giving them access to a frequently-asked-questions web page.

"They’ve been raising some very good questions about it that have really forced us to go deeper on our messaging to make sure that we’re clear with answers to specific questions" about the rules, Mr. Susswein said.

The university sent out an email last week to remind the university community of provisions in the new law and in the university’s policies.

When classes begin, the university will make another push to get information out and will probably use more social-media channels to reach students, he said.

But, Mr. Susswein said, it is ultimately the responsibility of licensed gun holders to understand the rules.

"Under state law, those who have a license to carry are required to be familiar with the law and the rules of the campuses where they’re going," he said. "And we’re trying to put as much information as we can to both help them understand it and help others understand it."