Campus safety is nothing to shrug off, and on Wednesday, Oct. 7, Eastern took a threat seriously when it cancelled classes for the remainder of that week.
The decision was a bold one, but not entirely out of line considering our country’s history of gun violence and school shootings. In February, when a similar threat was written in the Combs Building bathroom stall, class was made optional for a day so students wouldn’t be penalized for feeling unsafe.
The announcement came the day after the university announced they were committed to continuing classes and pursing their mission of educating its students.
“Just as we did with a similar threat last February, we will get through this difficult time by working together, looking out for each other and remaining vigilant,” President Michael Benson said in an email addressed to campus Tuesday afternoon. “I cannot emphasize enough that the University remains open and committed to its mission. Classes are being held as usual.”
Less than 12 hours later, Benson released a new statement canceling classes for the week. Students, faculty and parents were concerned by the sudden news.
The bravado of the administration was something we could all stand behind. They told us every resource was looking into the threat, and we would all be safe so long as we stood together.
That all crumbled Wednesday morning, as students panicked over what new information the university must have had. Parents raced to campus to pick up their students. As the day progressed, the university remained tight-lipped on what caused them to cancel classes.
Later in the day, Eastern officials decided to consolidate all the students still on campus into a handful of dorms. They did this in order to implement security measures to fewer dorms and better protect all the students by keeping them together.
The idea is sound, but from the students’ perspective it seemed like a last minute decision. It made students worry even more about what university officials knew and weren’t sharing.
Through emails with various administrators, we’ve learned there was nothing specific that caused them to shut down the campus and move the students around, but that it was done to keep residents safe. In an interview with WEKU, Benson said the volume of discussion on social media sites was the main reason for closing the university.
It took a full day for the university to answer any questions regarding their decision, and it was a day of speculation and unease.
The decision to close the university was not a bad one, it was the only one to make in that situation. Students likely wouldn’t have come to campus if classes were still in session. It’s hard to focus on learning when you’re looking over your shoulder every other second.
But the way the administration made and announced the decision should have been more transparent. You can’t send people into a panic when they are already in a panic. And not elaborating on the reasons for the abrupt closings led to an even greater panic.
We understand the nature of ongoing investigations and how much information can and can’t be released, but even a simple, ‘no, this rumor isn’t true,’ or ‘yes, this rumor is true,’ about the handful of rumors in circulation would have gone a long way toward easing the minds of Eastern students. That’s how you create a healthy and safe atmosphere.
Another issue that arises because of this latest threat is what’s going to happen next time? It’s hard to say whether something would have happened if the campus was full of students Wednesday and Thursday, but professors and students alike were discussing the coincidence that the threat was made so close to midterms.
Should we expect the campus to be held hostage every time someone doesn’t want to take a test? Is the university going to say it will stand strong, only to back down at the last minute? The only thing certain is that it’s 2-0 for threats getting students out of classes. Soon, everyone is going to think they can get out of class by scribbling on a bathroom stall.