On the morning of Monday, Feb. 8, I woke up somewhere between 5 and 6 a.m. For some reason, my room had reached 80 degrees during the night and the overbearing heat snapped me out of sleep. Once I adjusted the temperature, I crawled back into bed with every intention of catching a few more hours of sleep before I had to get up for the day.
As I usually do, I grabbed my phone to see if there were any important updates. I went through my email, caught up on group chat messages that had been posted while I was sleeping and checked a few social media apps—including Yik Yak. I have had Yik Yak on my phone for awhile now, but I’ve found myself looking at it less and less as the year goes on. It turned out that I had chosen a rather interesting time to open it.
Under the “Hot” section, there was a flood of posts all centered around one topic: a threat. It was hard to understand right away, but it became apparent that at some point, approximately around 1 a.m., someone had posted a comment that many described as a creepy, nursery rhyme-style threat. This message was posted repeatedly, although naturally it was voted off each time. Many people were further disturbed when they later reported hearing loud cracks and bangs, which others reassured as being fireworks.
Numerous students wrote on Yik Yak that they had reported the threat to Public Safety, who assured them that they were investigating the situation. This made me confused, because hours had passed since these comments had originally appeared and I hadn’t seen any sort of message from Public Safety when going through my email only minutes earlier.
What had happened in the hours since these comments had been posted? Had Public Safety found the person who issued the threat, or were they still investigating? If it was the former, why hadn’t they let us know the campus was safe? If it was the latter, why didn’t they let us know of the potential danger?
Unsettled by this discovery on Yik Yak, I was unable to fall asleep. Instead, I laid in bed refreshing my email every other minute, because surely they wouldn’t leave us, the student body and faculty, in the dark.
What about the people who didn’t use Yik Yak? They would have no idea of the threat unless an email was sent out.
And if they hadn’t caught the person behind the threat, then wasn’t it the university’s responsibility to inform everyone? That way students could decide for themselves whether or not they wanted to be on campus or attend their classes.
But as time wore on, so did their silence. I eventually voiced my frustration on Twitter. At 7:42 a.m., I wrote: “[To be honest] I’m very curious as to why @WCUofPA has not publicly addressed the threat when there are so many students afraid for their safety.”
Almost two hours later, I received a response: “Hello Casey, can you be more specific? And/or feel free to contact Public Safety at wcupa.edu/dps/ 610-436-3311.”
I was floored. How could they not know what I was referring to? I replied immediately in a series of tweets: “As far as I know, many people have reported the threat that was made. I just thought we would have at least received an email. I believe it was made some time last night on Yik Yak. I’m disappointed that public safety didn’t send out any kind of information. Those who don’t use Yik Yak probably had no idea. They should’ve been made aware so they could decide whether or not to go to class[.]”
When I saw another student on Yik Yak write that they had been in contact with Public Safety, who had deemed the threat not credible, I added, “Apparently public safety doesn’t consider it to be a ‘credible’ threat, but like I said, there still should’ve been an email. Honestly, their silence is part of the reason why I’ve opted out of going to my classes today.”
It was the first time since the first semester of my freshman year that I had missed a class. I emailed both of my professors to tell them that I would probably not be in attendance and explained why. They were both understanding but, unsurprisingly, were caught off guard as they had not been made aware of the threat until I told them.
Similarly, many of my friends didn’t know until I posted it on my social media accounts or mentioned it in person. One of my friends is student teaching this semester and called me during their lunch break to ask for more details after seeing my Twitter posts. I have a family member who works here, and they were completely astonished when I explained what had happened.
It wasn’t until 5:06 p.m., long after my classes were over, that WCU’s Twitter finally got back to me. They said, “Casey, campus police found the student quickly. The student will be going through WCU’s judicial affairs process.”
I was shocked and furious. I quickly sent back, “Thank you, I appreciate the update. However, I still don’t understand why the entire student body wasn’t notified.”
This time, it only took them 11 minutes to respond, assuring me, “WCU police conducted a swift investigation of the post and determined that a credible threat had not been made.”
It was a completely useless reply, as I had already pointed out the same exact thing that morning. I sent them one more tweet, writing, “But because students weren’t notified, many spent the day, confused and scared, hidden in their rooms due to lack of information.”
They never replied.
Some of you might wonder what the big deal is. After all, nothing ever happened as a result of this threat. At the end of the day, though, they utterly failed us.
Yes, they came to the conclusion that the threat was not credible and tracked down the student responsible. But how were we to know if they didn’t tell us?
Perhaps they didn’t want to incite unnecessary paranoia and fear, but as I told Daily Local News reporter Candice Monhollan, they actually did just that by not saying anything.
While I know many dismissed the threat as a joke, I also know others who were greatly affected by this and suffered anxiety attacks. Maybe they assumed that those who knew would just forget about it, but if that’s true, that’s quite an ignorant hope.
Ultimately, even if it did not constitute a timely warning alert, Public Safety should have notified students and faculty in some manner. If we keep in mind that this follows last semester’s controversy where students voiced their problems regarding the sexual misconduct policy, this can be seen as yet another reason that has caused many of us to lose faith in Public Safety.
Casey Tobias is a second-year student majoring in women’s and gender studies and communication studies with minors in journalism and German. She can be reached at CT822683@wcupa.edu. Her Twitter is @Casey__Tobias.