Shortly after midnight on Saturday, Sept. 28, students received a campus alert from Dean of the College Christopher Roellke notifying the campus of a report made about two hours prior at 10:19 p.m., of a suspicious person at Sunset Lake, who appeared to be armed armed with a handgun and brass knuckles.
The Poughkeepsie police arrived on the scene and performed a check of campus before concluding that no further action was required that evening. The following day, Dean of Students D.B. Brown updated the College via email, writing that the man described in the report had been located. The reported handgun was an air pellet gun, and the man received a trespass notification and was informed that arrest could result from future presence on Vassar’s campus.
We at The Miscellany News believe that the response of campus Safety and Security Department and the Administration to this incident was inadequate, and that a campus alert should have been sent earlier and through the text and call alert system.
At the time the incident occurred, many students were in the Villard Room attending an all-campus party. If the trespasser entered Main Building or the Villard Room, there could have been a large threat posed had they actually been armed, as was initially suspected. Students deserve to know if there is a possible threat on campus so they can respond accordingly.
Though most students have mobile access to their email, it is likely that not all students read the message as soon as it was sent. Although many students have smartphones, not everyone has the ability to check email on their phones and those that do are less likely to check on a Saturday night if they are with friends, or intoxicated. Under these circumstances, it is important that a campus text and call is made in addition to alerts via email.
At the VSA meeting following the incident, the Safety and Security response briefly came up during open discussion, but it was not a focal point of the meeting.
The VSA represents the student body and it is concerning if these student leaders are not receiving more information from administrators after instances of potential danger. As the VSA is one of the main channels of communication between students and administration, it is crucial that those administrators privy to information about campus safety brief council members in a timely fashion. They announced that they would be meeting with College administrators to discuss the matter, but as of late students have received no substantial updates in regards to future alert protocol.
Though the element of immediate concern is no longer present, the alleged presence of a handgun, the use of brass knuckles is a clear display of malicious or intimidating intent. A person who appears to have a handgun on campus is undoubtedly a large enough threat to merit a text and call alert instead of, or in addition to, a campus alert email. The urgency of the email alone, written in all capital letters, was enough to prompt concern in students. Many students have perceived the fervor the message as being at odds with its mode of conveyance: Should a situation be dire enough to warrant such a distressing email, certainly it warrants a more thorough alert process.
Considering again the all-campus party that was ongoing at the Villard Room that evening, there needs to be increased measures for ensuring student safety where many students are in such a centralized location.
We at The Miscellany News urge Safety and Security to establish clear criteria of what warrants a text and call alert and to consider using these systems that are in place to provide students with a greater sense of awareness. Text and call alerts are not always preferable to an email, but we at The Miscellany News recommend greater use of this system. Additionally, knowing the rationale for using each of these modes of communication leaves room for students to evaluate what course of action is best to guarantee personal safety.
While Campus Security did not seem to immediately know that the trespasser was not indeed carrying an actual firearm with live ammunition, this too seems to contradict the decision to send an email that indeed resulted in arousing student concern.
Similarly, a member of the VSA speculated that perhaps the delayed response in the incident report and the dissemination of the campus alert was due to the need for police to first thoroughly evaluate the situation before potentially falsely alarming students.
However, we at The Miscellany News believe that it is often better for students to be concerned unnecessarily rather than encounter someone who is armed, especially in light of school shootings occurring across the country.
While police ultimately concluded that the prospective firearm was merely an air pellet gun, the initial email suggested a much larger threat to student and staff safety. An email two hours after the trespasser was initially spotted is not sufficient precaution to ensure campus-wide safety. With this in mind, if there were to be future incidents such as this recent one, we at The Miscellany News do not feel that the administration’s response is adequate to provide a sense of security and safety.
Taking the appropriate measures by acting as if this trespasser did indeed have malicious intent, and advising students to stay indoors is an understandable response to ensure that the lives of those on campus are of the utmost importance. It is reasonable to assume faculty and students would rather known they are out of harm’s way than to realize two hours later that they could have potentially been harmed.
We at The Miscellany News believe that largely the student body would rather be safe and informed of possible threats than seemingly blissfully ignorant of potential dangers.
—The Staff Editorial represents the opinions of at least 2/3 of the Editorial Board.