The response of the university administration to the homicide that occurred near High Street in Shippensburg Township leaves much to be desired.
While the incident occurred at 8:15 p.m., according to police, I began receiving messages regarding the incident through various social media posts around 8:50 p.m. As 21-year-old Samir Rodney Stevenson was transported to a Life Lion helicopter at around 9:10 p.m., an “SUALERT” text message was sent to students informing them of shots fired off-campus on High Street. It advised students to avoid the area and contact state police if they had any information.
We sent out several live-tweets from High Street to inform our audience what was going on. Several friends flooded group chats with false or inaccurate information in the vacuum of legitimate communication from authorities and the university. Some indicated the threat had moved to many different off-campus housing areas.
There has been no information released by any officials in any official capacity indicating these areas were at risk. For its part, The Slate reported as many facts of the situation it could at the scene until police were ready to release information to the general public at 11 p.m., which The Slate live-streamed.
It was only after the public announcement by the police that students received another “SUALERT” text at 11:18 p.m., stating:
“Update to shooting off campus on High St. State Police report there is no immediate threat to the public at this time and continue to investigate.”
It comes down to the individual to define what “immediate” in the context of an immediate threat means. However, two young men were shot. One was left in critical condition while the other was killed. And their assailants were still on the loose, and could have been anywhere.
Perhaps the “immediate” threat was over, but students and members of the community still felt threatened.
Parents, students and others took to social media to voice their displeasure with the university. APSCUF President Kara Laskowski aired her own concerns in an interview with The Slate.
For six hours on Monday, hundreds, if not thousands of students made their way to classes. Meanwhile, several announcements with incremental updates to the situation unveiled themselves through emails sent by the university. First, they identified the victims — then, “persons of interest” — then, that the two police were seeking are SU students.
Students didn’t care about what was going on Monday morning when they began receiving email updates — they cared when they had no clue what was going on Sunday evening in the moment, and feared for their lives and the lives of those with whom they are here to learn.
Shortly after 2 p.m. on Monday, SU announced all classes and campus activities starting from 2 throughout the rest of Monday were canceled. Non-essential personnel were sent home while students were recommended to stay in their dorms.
This seems like a knee-jerk response to placate people who were upset with its response the night before. If the assailants posed any threat to the campus Monday afternoon, why were they not a threat Sunday night through Monday morning? SU should have been closed at the beginning of the day, not half-way through. Better safe than sorry.
Tragedies such as homicides warrant an effective, reactive response from university administrations. But instead of being reactive to the incident itself, it appears the university was reactive to a public opinion that was not content with its handling of the situation.
It is in the vacuum that was presented Sunday evening that the rumor mill spun off its axis and down the street. Students panicked — and rightly so.
I have nothing but respect for Shippensburg University and the people that serve it as an institution, and thankfully no greater damage was done beyond the initial incident off-campus. But SU has an ethical imperative to revisit its strategies and plans in releasing information to students to find a better way of letting them know what is going on.
"Your World Today" is a weekly column written by the editor-in-chief of The Slate. It represents solely the subjective opinion of the individual who wrote it. For Staff Editorial opinions, see this week's "The Slate Speaks."