False Alarm Leads to Campus Lockdown, Conversations on Race Ensue

After campus officials alerted the Colgate community of an “active shooter” and placed the campus on lockdown for nearly four hours, it was later revealed that the initial report had been made about a student carrying a glue gun. In a Tuesday morning email to campus, President Brian Casey called the reporting of an active shooter a “profound error.” Casey urged students to “understand the role that implicit racial bias” played.  

Progression of events on the evening of May 1 and early morning of May 2 was documented in a series of alerts sent to students, faculty and staff members.

At 8:06 p.m. on Monday, May 1, a text went out to the Colgate community, warning them that due to “a dangerous situation in the Coop [The O’Connor Campus Center], everyone is advised to leave the building or immediately move to a location that can be locked.” Subsequent alerts warned of an “alleged armed person,” and the subject line of the emails read “Active Shooter.” 

According to Interim Vice President and Dean of the College Mark Thompson, New York State Troopers, their Special Operations Response Team, the Madison County Sheriff’s Department and the Hamilton Police Department were the outside agencies that responded to the report.  

At 11:42 p.m., the campus was notified that New York State Police had issued an “all-clear,” and half an hour later, in a follow-up email, Thompson informed students that the alleged “armed person” had in fact been a student who was using a glue gun for a school project. 

Acknowledging that the night had been “upsetting … on many levels,” he invited students to gather in the chapel. 

The meeting in the chapel began with the administration addressing the crowd. Casey explained that the administration was working to gather all of the information to understand what happened. Casey turned the microphone over to Laura Jack, Colgate’s Vice President of Communications, to explain the messages that the Colgate community received. 

According to Jack, she received reports around 8 p.m. of “a gentleman acting erratically around the Coop.” It was unclear to Jack when exactly the true story of a student with a glue gun began to come together, but Jack explained that she does not have the authority to release a lockdown. Jack noted that  the University errs on the side of caution during potentially dangerous events, which can lead to a slower process.

Casey addressed the crowd again, noting his anger and agreeing with many students that this was a racial act. According to an email to the campus on Tuesday, May 2, he placed Campus Safety Director Bill Ferguson on administrative leave pending a full review of the previous night’s events. 

The student who was mistaken as an “armed person” addressed the chapel crowd, then many students expressed anger and frustration at the night’s events. 

Student Government Association (SGA) President-Elect Derek Baker addressed the crowd at the chapel, as well as reached out to the campus via email on behalf of the SGA. 

“Basically … in the chapel … what I said was that a lot of things I had been hearing from white people is that this could have happened to anybody, and realistically this could not have happened to anybody,” Baker said. “It did and only could have happened to a man of color on this campus because they are the only ones affected by such terrible, atrocious and incorrect stereotypes. And realistically if it was [me], or another light-skinned man, holding that glue gun, this would have never happened.”

On Tuesday morning, students gathered on the academic quad for a demonstration. Junior Sydni Bond orchestrated the demonstration, an idea that came to her in her anger the previous night. She also hoped to use the event to bring attention to Jordan Edwards, a fifteen-year-old killed by police in Dallas. 

“We can also use this moment to raise awareness about Jordan Edwards, rest in power, because he had just been shot and killed and a student on Colgate’s campus could have been another name to the movement behind Black Lives Matter,” Bond said. “People need to understand the impact of this.”

Students circled the quad and chanted “Black Lives Matter,” then turned outward so the message would reach further on campus. After chanting for twenty minutes and pausing for a moment of silence for Edwards, students gathered closer to hear Bond’s words. Many students then subsequently spoke.

“It turned into a space where people felt the need to speak and I think it’s cool. I thought it was appropriate,” Bond said. “I thought it was cool that some professors were there. It went really well, and I was actually really surprised because news stations came out.”

Sophomore Enrique Nunez hopes students stay focused on certain aspects of the night. 

“The problem is that while, yes, there was a scare on campus and it was very much a good thing that the campus responded in such a way as to show that – if there ever was a gunman – these are the precautions and the things that would come in place to stop whatever said gunman is [doing]. I think the bigger issue isn’t that we had to sit in a [expletive] closet for four hours, but the fact that this whole thing was started because of a racial profiling of a black man carrying a glue gun,” Nunez said. 

First-year Angie Diaz also asserted that the night’s events occurred because the student is a black man. Diaz emphasized the right of students to be angry. 

“Many [people of color] felt that they have a right to be angry, not just at the situation at hand, but the fact that [the accused student], a black student on campus, was in serious danger of getting shot over a hot glue gun,” Diaz said. “This isn’t an issue that should be sugarcoated or seen as just a ‘misunderstanding.’ This incident needs to be viewed as what it is: racial profiling. This situation is just evidence that Colgate has a problem that needs to be addressed.”

First-year Tolu Emokpae hopes that students channel their anger towards specific channels, and take it upon themselves to create change. 

“In my analysis of the handling of the incident that occurred on May 1, I have realized a number of things completely wrong with us as students,” Emokpae said. “We have completely misdirected our angers and frustrations at the wrong people. Though Campus Safety and Hamilton police hold a tremendous amount of responsibility with regards to how we proceeded, this all started with us students. The moment we realize that, at this very moment, we can only really be angry at ourselves is the moment our anger will become productive. On May 1, senseless mass hysteria gripped the student population. Now, we want answers, but those answers will not come from the Colgate administration.” 

Emokpae believes that for change to occur, internal reflection, mobilization and insistence on change will be most fruitful in deterring future incidents of this nature. 

In terms of what comes next, many students call on the administration to speak up and acknowledge what these students see as a case of racial profiling.

“They need to first and foremost say that this is what actually happened, because everyone on campus knows what this was,” Nunez said. “You can’t just try to sweep it under the rug for the namesake, for alumni, or anything like that. You have to be accountable and you have to actually say, this is what happened.”

Bond also calls on the administration for stronger language in acknowledging what happened and listening to students to incorporate their input. 

“This is not implicit racial bias. This was racial profiling. This was racism. There’s no implicit racial bias about this,” Bond said. 

Many students are questioning what comes next, and as SGA President-Elect, Baker is not yet sure of the actions that the group will take.

“SGA is a body that has made mistakes in the past, has walked on the feet of people who know better and right now, what I am doing – or what I have been doing for the last few weeks – is trying to reach out to people who know more than I do, who will be able to help me implement different action steps to do this,” Baker said. “So basically, I don’t know. SGA wants to acknowledge that there is racism that I think was being ignored for a long time, and I think we have done that. And it’s now working with people to figure out what to do next.”

In an email to The Maroon-News, Thompson acknowledged that there is work to be done. 

“The events of Monday night were extremely and rightfully upsetting for our Colgate community.  While I felt relieved [that] no one was physically injured, the psychological and spiritual injuries inflicted upon so many, including and especially our students of color, remain,” Thompson said. “Creating a campus community that genuinely values everyone, free of implicit and racial bias, must be a fundamental tenant of this institution. It requires the ongoing commitment of everyone, and especially those holding privilege and power.”

Bond hopes that students remember that racism does not have to be major acts, but can manifest in subtler ways. 

“It’s silence, it’s the condoning or the ‘oh I don’t think it’s that bad so it must not be,’ or it’s even simply ‘well, I’m invalidating your feelings because I disagree with you,’” Bond said. “Racism by any other name is just as evil, so whether that’s a microaggression or silence or something else, it’s still just as bad, which means this was just as bad. This was completely racist.” 

President Casey has promised a full report of the incident to be released to the campus community by May 12.