- Associated Press - Monday, July 4, 2016

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - For every five people shot in Daytona Beach last year, one of them was a Bethune-Cookman University student.

In total, 11 students were shot in four separate incidents. A campus parking lot. A nearby house party. An apartment.

The students were among the 54 people who were shot citywide.

While the Midtown community surrounding the college has historically been an area associated with higher rates of poverty and crime, the string of violence involving Bethune-Cookman students has little to do with location, said Daytona Beach police chief Mike Chitwood. It has more to do with social aspects, he said.

“This is not random acts of violence,” the chief said, referencing the Sept. 17 incident when two girls were shot and killed at Carolina Clubs Apartments, located outside Midtown. One of the victims was the shooter’s girlfriend, angry over a rent dispute. On April 3, a former B-CU student opened fire at an off-campus house party. “Every victim has some type of relationship with the shooter. The students are at risk because of who they associate with.”

The tragic year sparked a collective hush throughout the campus. But not just from the mourning and grief associated with the violence. Students were told not to talk to reporters and the school’s top official - President Edison Jackson - did not agree to answer questions. A scheduled interview with the school’s public safety director never materialized. This year, after three more students were shot at a golf clubhouse, new faculty members, who have only been with the school since January, addressed the media.

One of them, Bonisha Porter, dean of students, told the media in March that gun violence is a growing concern not just at B-CU but across the nation.

“We are coming together in prayer, we are supporting the families and we are supporting one another,” Porter said. “We are linking together and trying to be strong and make sure that we bring everyone through this sadness.”

Experts say it would bode better for the college if the president did more of the talking.

That silence is “not a good strategy,” said Marybeth Gasman, Director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions at Pennsylvania University. “It’s better to talk directly to the media than have other people talk for you. I’d encourage B-CU’s president to talk to the media to get that perspective out about what’s happening.”

Otherwise, rumors can materialize, which could hurt enrollment, morale and community partnerships, Gasman added.

But in a statement sent May 6, school spokeswoman Keisha Boyd touted the school’s relationship with local law enforcement agencies, community organizations and churches. She also said the application pool has continued to grow.

“Our students and parents believe in B-CU,” the statement said. “It is evident as the university continues to do great things.”

In the statement, Boyd pointed to the newly constructed residence halls as a step to improve safety. More cameras and security personnel have been added to campus as well, she said.

“Student safety is extremely important to Bethune-Cookman University,” Boyd said. “We have a strong partnership with DBPD and work closely with them. We’ve also held town hall meetings to educate our students on dealing with violence and the resources that are available to them.”

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Information from: Daytona Beach (Fla.) News-Journal, http://www.news-journalonline.com

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