Last week, I wrote an article about how Campus Safety and Security mishandled the SOTA threat by withholding valuable information. So… naturally… I went digging for answers. Since the Director of Campus Safety and Security Susan Wagshul-Golden refused to release any further information about the threat, this is what I uncovered from UWT’s Director of External Relations, Mike Wark:
WHO SPECIFICALLY (ON BEHALF OF UW TACOMA) WAS NOTIFIED ABOUT THIS THREAT?
“UW Tacoma director of Campus Safety & Security, Susan Wagshul-Golden, was notified by the principal of the Tacoma Public Schools Friday morning, Nov. 20th. The Tacoma School of the Arts uses two classrooms on the UW Tacoma campus, as well as meets in buildings throughout downtown Tacoma.”
WHEN DID THE THREAT INITIALLY TAKE PLACE AND HOW LONG AFTERWARD WAS UW TACOMA NOTIFIED ABOUT IT?
“The social media threat was made very late Thursday evening, Nov. 19th. It was vague and did not include a specific school location, time, or name an individual or individuals. School administrators became aware of the threat Friday morning, reported it to Tacoma Police Department and notified UW Tacoma Campus Safety & Security around 9 am.”
WHAT SPECIFIC DETAILS ABOUT THE THREAT WERE KNOWN TO UW TACOMA?
“We received information from Tacoma Public School and did not have access to the actual message. We understood a former SOTA high school student was upset about comments posted anonymously on a cell phone app used by high school students. The former student posted threats of violence as a result of those comments, which Tacoma Public Schools administrators felt were directed toward SOTA students. Later, we confirmed the threats involved the potential use of a firearm toward high school students.”
DID UW TACOMA CONSIDER CANCELLING CLASSES FOR THE DAY? IF SO, WHY DID UW TACOMA ULTIMATELY DECIDE NOT TO?
“Classes were not cancelled because we understood threats were not made toward our community. The SOTA students who meet in UW Tacoma classrooms were moved to another School of the Arts building. The School of the Arts students meet in several locations across downtown Tacoma. The person-of-interest did not indicate a time, location, or name an individual or individuals. Because safety of everyone on campus is our first priority, we increased Campus Security Patrols and Tacoma Police increased their patrols and presence around campus during the day. This was determined to be an appropriate response during this threat.”
IF UW TACOMA KNEW ABOUT THE SPECIFIC NATURE OF THE THREAT, WHY WAS THE ALERT SO VAGUE? E.G. “A THREAT OF VIOLENCE.”
“In preparing the all-campus message, we consulted with the Tacoma Police Department because an active investigation was underway for this case. We were advised that because the person-of-interest had not been formally charged with a crime, and the details were being investigated, we should use general language. We also reviewed the email sent by Tacoma Public Schools to parents and guardians of students. Because they were most informed about the threat, we used similar language to describe it.”
I have a few problems with these answers, one of which being with the notion that the threat wasn’t made against our community. As I mentioned in my previous article, I was a SOTA student and I can tell you right now that I spent a lot of time on the UWT campus. Not only were some of my classes held in UWT, but this is the part where I confess my sins and admit that I would occasionally hang out in the Dawg House. These schools aren’t as separate as the administration would have us believe. Any “threat of violence” that requires UWT campus safety officers to increase their patrols—resources that we pay for—is our problem and concern.
My second issue is with the Tacoma Police Department advising the use of “general language.” As I said before, I understand that police and UWT administrators didn’t want to cause widespread panic. Yet, I can’t wrap my head around why the UW Alert couldn’t just read, “Campus Safety and Security was notified about an alleged shooting threat made against a School of the Arts student who attends classes held on our campus. The Tacoma Police Department has been notified and an active investigation is underway. The identity of the suspect is known.” We are adults, we can handle the truth.
Overall, the decision to keep students, staff, and faculty in the dark was a really bad call. Fortunately, the consequences of that bad call were close to nil. I mean, sure, I wrote a harsh critique about the issue, but overall no one was hurt and that’s all that matters. As we begin to move forward, we must keep in mind that this is a learning environment, not just for students, but for administrators as well. And so we must forgive those who made that call, so long as next time, they provide us with the information we deserve.