Finals Week Threats Spike at California Colleges

Picture of Samantha Hoppe By Samantha Hoppe

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finals week threatsFinals season is always a stressful time of the year for college students. Several higher education institutions in California received threats during finals week the 2018-2019 school year. On campus threats during finals are nothing new – students who are willing to do anything to avoid taking finals have been using them as a distraction years. In today's climate, schools cannot take the risk of not treating these threats seriously when investigating them. Keeping students and staff informed and updated on the status of campus threats is essential for minimizing panic. See how four California colleges handled threats and finals week panic during this academic year.

University of California San Diego

Threats were found at the University of California San Diego during their finals week this past semester. The generalized, non-specific threats were written on three women’s bathroom doors in the campus library, officials reported.

“Our University takes every threat of violence extremely seriously and the UC San Diego Police Department has responded and is investigating,” said University Police Chief David S. Rose.

UC San Diego officials consulted with police, the Behavioral Threat Team, local and federal law enforcement, and a threat assessment expert before deciding to continue with its regular finals week schedule. More police were also present on campus during finals week according to ABC San Diego.

"Students are already stressed out as it is, we don't need another thing to stress us out even more." says Derick Ong, senior at UCSD. Other students felt that the school left them in the dark about the threats and many feel like communications came too late. 

 

UCSD has an active Reddit community where students can discuss school happenings. Pictures of the graffiti threats quickly circulated. The UC San Diego Police described the threats as 'generalized and not specific', but students grew concerned when they saw the threats mentioned specific times and locations of where they were taking finals, like Center Hall. Students shared there thoughts:

  • 'The stress from finals already [messed] me up, and now I gotta stress about my safety too?' via u/Namehasbeentaken789
  • 'Emailed my professors asking them to change the finals to an online format...honestly I'm having second thoughts about even attending my Wednesday final...You can bet that everyone taking finals for the entire week will be nervously looking at the door.' via u/Cafris
  • 'There’s no way I will be able to concentrate on my 3 hour final tomorrow in morning in Center Hall if the whole time I’m terrified about something happening. I think that even if this is a fake threat it should still be taken seriously given how common violence and mass shootings have become.' via u/MeNicoChan

Many students heard about the threats hours before receiving an official notice about it from the school or police. Some took matters into their own hands and took to social media to inform their fellow students. One student created an anonymous profile to post one of the graffiti threats discovered - "I wasn't planning on sharing them until I heard about the second threat and admin still hadn't said anything. At that point I felt it would be negligent of me to not give people this information. We should be able to make an informed decisions about our safety, considering that a UCSD student was arrested last year for bringing a loaded gun to campus. I'm not seriously concerned about these threats, but I would rather be safe than shot" said the anonymous poster in a comment. Students were confused over why they had not received an official alert, and expressed that even if the threat is not credible, they deserve to know about it. Leaving students uninformed only creates additional panic.

Later the next day, the UCSD police issued an alert to campus community members and a press release. In the press release, police Chief David Rose informed students that UCSD decided to continue with its regular schedule during finals week. The UC San Diego Police declared the campus safe after investigating the violent threats. They did not make the decision lightly - university police also consulted with the campus Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management Team, local and federal law enforcement, and a threat assessment expert. Thankfully, UCSD students ended up having a safe finals week, although it took a toll on the mental health of already stressed out students.

The text message alert students finally received was a very brief and vague message of 'Campus Threat Campus Threat'. The cryptic message with no information only ensued more panic. 15 minutes later, a follow up text was sent telling students to "refer to the UCPD email message for details." Students were frustrated at the major shortcomings of the important alert.

The person responsible for the threats had not been located at the time of publishing, but potential witnesses were interviewed and surveillance video was being reviewed in late March. In the press release, Chief Rose reminded the community that "threats are a serious matter. Threats are considered a felony, a crime punishable by imprisonment. In addition to criminal punishment, those who make threats face academic and/or administrative penalties."

California State University at Northridge

A series of written threats also appeared at California State University at Northridge at the end Fall 2018 semester. Some of the threats referred to a mass shooting to take place on December 12, 2018, the first day of fall semester finals. With final exams looming, the additional stress of three school shooting threats in a week is difficult for everyone. Professors were required to provide alternate test options for students who did not feel safe coming to campus. The alternate formats allowed students to choose if they felt comfortable coming to campus without sacrificing their grade.

The alternate option was later extended for all final exams that semester "to further ease the anxiety students are understandably experiencing" explained CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison. "We recognize that these threats have created an environment where students and other members of our campus community fear for their safety," Harrison said in a statement.

The decision was made after the second threat was found on campus in less than a week. The first was on December 5 and included hateful and racist language. Both messages threatened a shooting on December 12. Police believe the two threats are separate, said university spokesperson Carmen Ramos Chandler.

"I just feel like people might think it's like a scam, like someone's just trying to get out of finals. But also it's a little concerning because that's like our safety" CSUN student Yvette Hernandez said to ABC Eyewitness News. The university sent out an email about the threat, but Hernandez said that it went to her junk mail.

CSUN police did not provide specific details about what was written in the threat, but the chief of police said the department is moving forward in ensuring they re-focus efforts on campus. "We have an increase in patrols that our community will see both on foot and on bicycle," Chief Gregory Murphy said.

Students expressed concerns on social media, some saying the university's accommodations were not enough. More than 15,000 signed a Change.org petition to close the CSUN campus on the date mentioned in the threat. The stress of the threats, several said on twitter, prevents students from focusing on finals. 

According to CBS Los Angeles, the first threat found was an expletive-filled letter threatening faculty and students on Wednesday - the start of final exams. Two graffiti incidents were also found that referenced Nazis and Wednesday's date. The third threat was a post circulating on social media that threatened the university's Pride center. The university informed the community on social media that police investigated the post and determined that there was no threat.

The school found threats again in the Spring 2019 semester according to Daily News. Chief Murphy said that his department is treating this matter with the utmost seriousness. Police asked the community to provide any information that would help in identifying the person or persons responsible for writing the message.

Learn More: How Students Can Make Anonymous Reports with an App

California State University Long Beach

California State University Long Beach, CSUN’s sister campus, faced threats the following this past semester last month.  "School Shooter tm Be Warned 5-9" was left scrawled inside a bathroom wall on campus reported KTLA.  

After the threat was found, CSULB boosted campus security. Authorities investigated the threat to the campus but found that it was not creditable. The university issued a statement saying, "An initial assessment is that there is no immediate threat to the campus. Similar messages have been found recently at other institutions. However, the university will enhance police presence as an added precaution.”

KTLA spoke with Greg Bunton, a CSULB building tech. He has worked at the university for 43 years, and he says finals week panic has become a new norm for students. "It's a very stressful time for them, so to add this on top of that, I can understand how they would feel very threatened," Bunton said. "But we have campus police. They've doubled the security, so they're doing a great job."

“At this time, we have no information that leads us to believe this is a credible threat, and the campus is open,” university spokeswoman Lauren Williams said on the morning of May 9 2019, the day referenced the graffiti threat.  The Cal State Long Beach Police Department and the Long Beach Police Department both increased their presence on campus that day.

Emergency kits were scheduled to be installed on CSULB’s campus the same week they received the threat. The kits contain medical aid supplier and tourniquets, a device which applies pressure to a limb or extremity so as to limit the flow of blood. Tourniquets, when used properly, can help safe lives during a shooting by slowing uncontrolled bleeding on-site. First responders will be on campus providing demonstrations on how to use them.

Quick-Read: Everyday Citizens are Having to Become First Responders - Here's  Why it Matters

There was commentary on social media from CSULB students asking the school to alert people of the threat. Many were first made aware of the potential shooter by social media posts by fellow students who had discovered the threat first hand. Hours after the threat was originally found, the Long Beach State Police Department sent out an email acknowledging that the university was aware of the issue. According to twitter, the email with the threat information ended up in junk folders for many students.

California State University Los Angeles

California State University Los Angeles, another sister campus of CSULB CSUN, utilizes a mass notification system to help keep students safe. The LA campus thankfully did not receive any threats this past year, but is prepared to keep students, staff and visitors informed during any threat with a robust critical communications platform.

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Written by Samantha Hoppe

Sam Hoppe is Rave's Digital Marketing Specialist. She works closely with the Rave team on emails, blogs, and the website. Favorite topics include state and local government issues, emergency management, current events and feel-good stories. A New Jersey native turned Bostonian, you can find Sam exploring new bars and restaurants or enjoying live shows across the city.

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