Evaluating Campus Safety

On Monday, October 23, the Colgate community received an email from Campus Alerts about Hascall Hall being closed due to a suspicious package. Coincidentally at that same time, I had been discussing with a friend last semester’s “glue gun incident.” For those who don’t know, on May 1, 2017, Colgate went on lockdown because someone reported to Campus Safety that an armed man was seen near the O’Connor Campus Center (the Coop). This led to a campus-wide (including campus apartments) lockdown for almost four hours before the “all clear” was issued. There were a number of complaints after the truth of the incident was revealed – the armed man in question was an African American student using a glue gun for a project. While racism was one of the big issues, my friend and I were actually discussing Campus Safety’s actions and students’ responses.

There are clearly a number of differences between the incident from last Monday and last May. Hascall is a fairly unpopulated building, and the incident happened during the day when students had classes. In contrast, the incident at the Coop happened in the evening on an incredibly stormy night the week before finals. In both cases, I heard about the incidents through GroupMe shortly before the Campus Alerts emails were sent. The first warning email for the glue gun incident was sent at 8:06 p.m. and the all clear email was sent at 11:43 p.m. – about three and a half hours later, with email updates every half hour or so. During that time, some of the alerts had the subject line “Active Shooter,” which people later argued was a misleading e-mail title. Rumors had quickly spread through GroupMe chat groups and texts relaying that there was a second shooter and that one of the shooters had shot themselves – none of this was actually true, and was in fact very far from the facts of the incident, but it induced panic as information from Campus Safety was quite limited. I would even argue that the term “Active Shooter” strongly induced panic and rumors. 

In contrast, the Hascall package incident was a very contained incident and a good number of students were in classes or at least not immediately near the scene. The first Campus Alerts email was sent at 11:31 a.m. and the all clear was given at 12:23 p.m. –  just under an hour later. Almost no one during the time even knew of the incident. I was able to find out more information because of my connection to the Philosophy department as a Philosophy major, but unsurprisingly this wasn’t as talked about afterward as compared to the glue gun case.

I must admit that I am of the less popular opinion that Campus Safety did the right thing during the glue gun incident – they were by no means perfect (and there were other issues at hand unrelated to them), but overall I believe it was better to be safe than sorry. I believe this is the same for the Hascall incident. A few professors I talked with thought the situation wasn’t terribly serious – one even joked that clearly the way to take down Colgate is to eliminate its Philosophy department – but there was still potential for the unknown contents of the package to be dangerous. If I were in Campus Safety’s position, I would find it quite challenging to know how much information the public should have; too much may spread panic, but too little may lead to people spreading rumors themselves. There is also the larger issue of how much Campus Safety even knows at the time. So while it is easy to complain or make memes (and there were some quality memes after both situations), I think people need to remember that Campus Safety’s job isn’t just a joke – they are here to protect us.

Contact Summitt Liu at [email protected].