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  • Synopsis: Intro and Background.
    Keywords: Immigrant; Childhood; Growing up in Elgin
    Transcript: COIL: My name is Anna Coil. I'm here with my fellow interviewer Lucy-

    JOHNSON: Johnson.

    COIL: Johnson and our narrator Maria Christiansen. We're at the Dekalb Public Library for the recording for the NIU 125th Oral History Project. I would like to start out with your background. Would you say a bit about your background, such as where you grew up and your life before you came to NIU?

    CHRISTENSEN: Well I was born and raised in Mexico in Guadalajara. I came to the US when I was thirteen years old and then my family and I lived in Elgin, Illinois and I went to high school there, well middle school and high school, so pretty much I grew up the rest of my life in Elgin.
  • Synopsis: Student Life at NIU.
    Keywords: University; NIU; Former Student; Following her Brothers Footsteps; Police Officer; NIU Police Department.
    Transcript: COIL: How did you come to NIU?

    CHRISTENSEN: I was a former student here. My older brother was the first one who went to N. I. U. We're only a year apart, so he was a freshman when I was still a senior in high school. He liked it. I wasn't too familiar with a lot of the universities in the state just because I had moved in when I was thirteen years old, so I wasn't very familiar to what the process was when it came to applying to universities, what other options I had. I knew that and N. I. U. was closest to home because it's only like a forty-minute drive. My brother was already there so he liked it. He really liked it so I figured, "You know what? Why not?" Why not go to N. I. U. and give it a shot and it would be close to home, so I won't be homesick and I already had my brother in there too as well, so I'll be a little bit more confident being away from home, I guess, and safer that he's there and he already knows the whole ropes about where to live and all that stuff. It was just more of a comfort kind of thing.

    COIL: What different roles have you played at N. I. U.?

    CHRISTENSEN: Well, I was a student and then I became a police officer as soon as I turned twenty-one. I've been with the N. I. U. police department for about ten years, is going to be eleven years in March.
  • Synopsis: February 2008 Shooting at NIU.
    Keywords: Gun Violence; Police; Shooting Victim; Reconstructive Surgery; Advocacy for Gun Violence; Office of Advocacy and Support; Help from the University after a Shooting.
    Transcript: COIL: I'm aware that you've spoken about the February fourteenth shooting in a previous interview. For those listening who haven't heard it, would you say a bit about your experience?

    CHRISTENSEN: Well, I was a student back in 2008. I was twenty years old-nineteen something like that and I was taking an oceanography class in Cole Hall, so it was a geology class. It was my second time taking that course and pretty much it was February fourteenth, 3:04 O'clock PM, the class was over at 3:15 or 3:05 and then that's when somebody came in dressed in dark clothing and started shooting. I want to believe I was one of the first ones to get shot. I did get shot with a shotgun on the neck and then pretty much the ammo for shotguns, it's little pellets and the slugs and the closer you are, the more damage it causes. I was pretty close to the individual who shot me. I was pretty sitting pretty close to the stage. He definitely did a lot of damage. Probably, the incident took about three minutes but it felt like an eternity to me. Then two of my classmates that I knew Ryan and Kathy were killed in that incident as well. Then they flew me out to Downers Grove, Good Samaritan Hospital has a great trauma center and they ended up doing surgery. They did tell my family to say their goodbyes because they weren't sure if I was going to survive the surgery. They literally had to fully reconstruct my esophagus and my trachea because it was completely destroyed from the impact. I still have a lot of pellets in my body because it was just thousands of them and they're tiny, so it's very, very hard to take those out. Thankfully didn't injure any other vital organs. It was just mostly up here. They did surgery. I was in ICU [Intensive Care Unit] for maybe a week and then I was in the hospital for maybe three, four more days. Then they released me. I still had a feeding tube when they released me from the hospital because they just said, it's going to take a little bit longer to have that removed. Then I came back to school in, I think, April to just finish the semester. Yes, that's pretty much it.

    COIL: How did that effect your experience as a student and as a police officer?

    CHRISTENSEN: A lot of people asked me, like is that what motivated me to be a police officer after that and it didn't. I had already set that in mind. I had that in mind that I wanted to be a police officer. If anything, it motivated me even more to become one. I have great things to say about N. I. U. , when I was going through that, when me and my family was going through it. They definitely set something up really quick, which was the Office of Support and Advocacy, O. S. A. Which they helped a lot with the victims or the individuals who were involved in the incident. They offered a lot of support, so I have nothing, if anything, it was a great experience in the sense that even though it was a tragic incident N. I. U. was super, super great to me and my family. Back then it was President Peters and he had called me personally just to, "Hey, are you okay? Do you need anything?" It's something that I wasn't expecting as it is due to the circumstances. It was a great experience in that sense. That my family didn't feel like, we were by ourselves, that we didn't know what was going to happen in anything. We didn't have to worry about our medical expenses or anything like that. They were very, very helpful and making it easier for me to recover and to go back to school as well. If anything, it was a great experience in that sense due to the circumstances.

    COIL: I'm aware that you've spoken about the February fourteenth shooting in a previous interview. For those listening who haven't heard it, would you say a bit about your experience?

    CHRISTENSEN: Well, I was a student back in 2008. I was twenty years old-nineteen something like that and I was taking an oceanography class in Cole Hall, so it was a geology class. It was my second time taking that course and pretty much it was February fourteenth, 3:04 O'clock PM, the class was over at 3:15 or 3:05 and then that's when somebody came in dressed in dark clothing and started shooting. I want to believe I was one of the first ones to get shot. I did get shot with a shotgun on the neck and then pretty much the ammo for shotguns, it's little pellets and the slugs and the closer you are, the more damage it causes. I was pretty close to the individual who shot me. I was pretty sitting pretty close to the stage. He definitely did a lot of damage. Probably, the incident took about three minutes but it felt like an eternity to me. Then two of my classmates that I knew Ryan and Kathy were killed in that incident as well. Then they flew me out to Downers Grove, Good Samaritan Hospital has a great trauma center and they ended up doing surgery. They did tell my family to say their goodbyes because they weren't sure if I was going to survive the surgery. They literally had to fully reconstruct my esophagus and my trachea because it was completely destroyed from the impact. I still have a lot of pellets in my body because it was just thousands of them and they're tiny, so it's very, very hard to take those out. Thankfully didn't injure any other vital organs. It was just mostly up here. They did surgery. I was in ICU for maybe a week and then I was in the hospital for maybe three, four more days. Then they released me. I still had a feeding tube when they released me from the hospital because they just said, it's going to take a little bit longer to have that removed. Then I came back to school in, I think, April to just finish the semester. Yes, that's pretty much it.

    COIL: How did that effect your experience as a student and as a police officer?

    CHRISTENSEN: A lot of people asked me, like is that what motivated me to be a police officer after that and it didn't. I had already set that in mind. I had that in mind that I wanted to be a police officer. If anything, it motivated me even more to become one. I have great things to say about N. I. U. , when I was going through that, when me and my family was going through it. They definitely set something up really quick, which was the Office of Support and Advocacy, O. S. A. Which they helped a lot with the victims or the individuals who were involved in the incident. They offered a lot of support, so I have nothing, if anything, it was a great experience in the sense that even though it was a tragic incident N. I. U. was super, super great to me and my family. Back then it was President Peters and he had called me personally just to, "Hey, are you okay? Do you need anything?" It's something that I wasn't expecting as it is due to the circumstances. It was a great experience in that sense. That my family didn't feel like, we were by ourselves, that we didn't know what was going to happen in anything. We didn't have to worry about our medical expenses or anything like that. They were very, very helpful and making it easier for me to recover and to go back to school as well. If anything, it was a great experience in that sense due to the circumstances.
  • Synopsis: Being a Latina Police Officer.
    Keywords: Latina Police Officer; Bilingual; Police Officer; Forensic Investigator; Fear of Deportation; Undocumented Immigrant.
    Transcript: COIL: How has being a Latina woman affected your experience as a police officer at N. I. U.?

    CHRISTENSEN: There's not that many of us who are Latina and are in the force as it is in general, nationwide, not just here. Thankfully we have two more that are actually working for us as well who are Latina but when I started it was just me. Especially being bilingual, it's not a lot of Latino officers, they might be Latino, but they might not dominate in Spanish very well, or they might not feel too comfortable speaking it or whatnot. It definitely has helped me with my job just because I can translate. I've worked with other agencies throughout the county that need any type of translation. If anything, it's like it's a great thing. We don't have a huge Latino community but the small that we have, I'm able to at least assist them in some way and there's that comfort that, "Hey, there's somebody that I can communicate with and they'll be able to understand what I'm saying and there won't be this misunderstanding or whatnot." It's been very, very helpful just in that sense. Now I'm also a forensic interviewer as well, so I'm a bilingual forensic interviewer. I interview little kids that have been sexually assaulted or abused or physically abused. That has also played a big role. Just because I'm able to help little kids who don't speak the language, to be able to assist them any way we can or at least any way I can. It has really benefited in that sense. Thankfully, our department has opened up more doors for more Latina women to get hired within our own department. I think even three, it's kind of a good number compared to other agencies and stuff.

    COIL: How has being an immigrant helped you connect with the students and other faculty at N. I. U.?

    CHRISTENSEN: It has helped a lot because, especially in the position that I'm in, I was undocumented for eight years, so I know the feeling of being in fear of any type of, "They're going to deport me, I don't want to deal with the police because then that will put me out there." I definitely have an understanding of that fear, of that uncomfortable feeling. It's a way to connect with the students because they can relate. I know that, if you're not okay talking to the police, or you might have that fear, based on the environment that we're living in right now. I want to make sure that they do have that comfort of coming to me and telling me, "Hey, there's an issue, can you help me out?" Without being fearful of, they're going to get me or they're going to deport me, they're going to do all this stuff. I think that has helped a lot to understand what they're going through, just because I went through it as well, me and my family, not just me. I think that helps a lot and having also that connection of, a lot of our students came in the same situation as I did. Probably not knowing the language because I didn't know the language when I was thirteen. I had a very difficult time understanding what was being said to me when I was in middle school. It's that frustration of not being able to communicate with somebody else. Not having that support of, who can I talk to that actually understands what I'm trying to say? I feel I can relate to them in some way with that for people who are or were in the same situation as I was.
  • Synopsis: Strengths and weaknesses of the University.
    Keywords: More communication by the University to students; updating the buildings; more student resources.
    Transcript: COIL: In your view, how has NIU changed? What are some weaknesses and strengths you've noticed in your time?

    CHRISTENSEN: Strengths, maybe I can say that. I feel like I don't know if it's because I'm also working with NIU but I feel like there's more communication towards the public, you know, towards the community. Of letting the community know, hey, this is what's happening within NIU or this is what's going to happen, or this is news, just constant communication, so I think that has improved a lot. Obviously, when I was a student, I didn't see that as much. Also, because we didn't have the resources like social media as much as now or, other different ways to communicate. I think that has helped a lot. [pause] Excuse me. I think that's a huge thing because it's our staff, our students and our faculty need to know what's happening with NIU. What's going to change? what's coming? All that stuff. I think that has improved a lot and I'm very happy for that. Some of the weaknesses, because we took a little bit too long in updating our buildings. [laughs] I think that now they're doing it, so it benefits more, NIU and the community as a whole. Also bringing new students to the University as well because we had very old buildings before and I think that we took a little bit too long to update them or upgrade them and changes are happening now, like the Holmes Student Center. I'm thankful that they're undergoing the changes they're doing because that was one of the main locations for students as their reference. That's one of the buildings that's pretty well known when it comes to the University. For them to finally give it the care that it needs, it's a great thing. I think that will be one of the weaknesses, that they took too long to do those updates, but I'm just happy that they got to it and they're working on it for sure. And I mean obviously, money issue but—
  • Synopsis: The memory that stands out the most.
    Keywords: 2008 shooting at NIU; Response by the University; years after the shooting; support programs for families of the victims.
    Transcript: COIL: Can you share a story about an experience or an event at your time in NIU that stands out your memory?

    CHRISTENSEN: I guess the biggest one was when I went through the whole shooting situation. I can't think of anything else that kind of sticks out. I've had really good experiences and stuff. I think that was the main one just because, it was to me, it was great that they moved as fast as they could to offer that support to the students who were involved. Because it felt like it was a relief to us. Because any questions that we had, we can just go to them. What do we do with this? Or what's going to happen with this? What's the next step? All that stuff. It really did help, having that support group. How they extended it, not just to that one year, it extended to a few years after that just so that way because they knew that students were still going to be around. They were affected by it. They wanted to make sure that we were taken care of throughout our whole experience at NIU. I think that was the best one that I can think of because just how supportive the University was of us. They made it feel like you're not alone, we got your back. I really, really appreciated that. My family did as well.
  • Synopsis: Acheivements as a police officer.
    Keywords: Changing the negative opinion of police officers; campus policing; coversations about campus policing; resources for students.
    Transcript: COIL: As an officer, what have been some achievements that you're most proud of?

    CHRISTENSEN: Oh, boy. I think how I am able to change some of the people that we encounter; their perspective about policing, a lot of them come with, not a lot of them but I encounter a few that have a negative perspective with police, which is nationwide. I think that everybody has the— They see police and they think something bad automatically. I think that our department, police in a different way to the sense that we try to get to know our students. We try to get to know our staff and our faculty and the people that we deal with. Just because we want to make sure that their first contact with police is not a negative one, it's a positive one. I've had a few students who have— I have changed their minds. A lot of my fellow officers have done the same, where, they're like, no we're not, we don't mess with the police. I don't talk to the police. Don't even come to me and all that stuff. Then we have a conversation about it. We take that time, to say, "Okay, why is it that you think this way?" They get to know us a little bit more and they feel, "Okay, you guys are not as bad as I thought." Or, "You guys are not to, you just come and get us." That's not our goal. We tell them from the beginning. When we do orientations and all that stuff. Our goal is for you to graduate with a clean record. We want to make sure that we both work together to accomplish that. I think that's one of the biggest things that I'm very proud of. That I get to change somebody's mind on the way that they see policing. It might be just here that they may, "Okay, NIUPD [Northern Illinois Police Department] is okay but I don't know about everybody else." That's fine. That's your idea but as long as I did my job while you were here and you felt comfortable enough to come to us. We tell them like, "Use us as a resource. We are not here to just go and get you. Just come in and we can work things out. Help you out with anything that you need." I think that's one of the biggest things just having that satisfaction of changing somebody else's mind that hey, not all of us are bad guys.
  • Synopsis: Coming into the University as a new student.
    Keywords: Physical changes to the University; orientation; using the police officers as resources; speaking up about issues on campus; counsellimg; informing the students.
    Transcript: COIL: What would you tell someone like yourself coming to NIU for the first time in 2019? What would you want them to know and understand about the past?

    CHRISTENSEN: That it has changed and that that change has been for the best. When it comes to physically, just how the University's looking with the buildings, we had New Hall, that wasn't there when I was a student. We don't have Douglas Hall anymore. Lincoln Hall, I lived in Lincoln Hall. It's like nobody's living there anymore. It's physical in that sense of, we have new buildings. It's just changing for the better and for the best. Also when it comes to security reasons as well. Definitely, it's what we tell the students when they come in when we do the orientations. We tell them, "Hey, you're an adult, and you're going to be on your own but we want you guys to be smart. We want you guys to use us as a resource as police officers. We want to make sure that you guys have a good experience, and that it's not a bad one. If you do have a bad experience, to speak out. Speak up and tell us, "Hey, this is what's happening." So that way we can fix the problem. That's just only obviously in the police side of it, but we definitely, try to tell them, "Hey, there is a lot of resources that you can have." There’s— I guess back then when I was a student, I didn't know how much— how many resources there were. Thankfully, I didn't really have to use many of them. I wish that I knew most of them. I think that's something that I also tell people who come into NIU. It's like, "Hey, did you know that NIU has this?" When it comes to counselling, when it comes to health services, when it comes to sports, when it comes to everything, I try to inform them as much as I can, as much as I know of what services there are for them. They don't feel like they don't— they can't. Coming in here and especially as a freshman, you feel lost. You don't know where to go or you don't know who to talk to and all that stuff. So I want them to feel that comfort that hey, there is things that you can do around campus or even off campus and there's that sense of security that you— you'll be okay. [laughs]
  • Synopsis: Evolution of the University for the best.
    Keywords: More resources: assistance for students; welcoming feeling by the University.
    Transcript: COIL: What else do you think deserves attention during this 125th anniversary?

    CHRISTENSEN: [pause in speech] I think that the University has definitely evolved for the best— kind of like what I mentioned it has changed in a good way. Obviously, one hundred and twenty-five years ago. [laughs] It's nothing compared to what it is now. It's so much bigger. There's so many more resources. Technology has increased tremendously. It has made the University a better place. I feel like NIU is very welcoming. You have that kind of warm welcome. It's not this cold, like, “Oh man, I'm just here in this big place and I don't know where to go, what to do”, you know, kind of thing. I think that they're very welcome. I know a few of the staff from the University and I know that they do their best to do what they can to help. If it's not the students, it's their fellow employees. I think that there is an immensely sense of care, that the University kind of shows and I'm very proud of that. I'm very happy that the University does that. Just because again if anybody's going through anything, they offer immediately assistance to solve the issue or do what they need to do to help out. I don't know what it was one hundred and twenty-five years ago, but I know that it has shown that kind of care and welcome from anybody that comes to the University. They're very open to bringing in people, even with things that happen throughout— in society in general. If it's a bad thing or a good thing, they still embrace it and they still want to— okay let's talk about this issue or if it's a good thing, okay, let's embrace that. Let's make it known or let's tell people about this. I kind of— I really like that, and I think that's one of the biggest things that NIU has done at least the time that I've been here— yeah.

    COIL: Is there anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't covered?

    CHRISTENSEN: I don't think so. I think im good. [laughs]

    COIL: Okay. Well, thank you to our narrator Maria Christiansen and my assistant-

    JOHNSON: Lucy Johnson.

    COIL: Lucy Johnson.

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