With very little information regarding the spree of bomb threats, University of Pittsburgh denizens are left with speculative worries and a dimly lit path for analysis. How do we try and understand a puzzle with so few pieces?
Now resting (for the time) at 57 empty bomb threats, students, faculty, and staff of the University may want to allow their minds to wonder to questions beyond that of safety. Two come to my mind: What are we responding to? And, what is the appropriate response?
Let’s begin with the first question. Our security measures are a response to…what, exactly?
Despite full email, text, and voicemail inboxes, the knowledge about what the bomb threats say and how they are being received is nearly null. The news has stated that some of the bomb threats are coming through e-mails from Austria and online there are a few posted pictures of the scrawled messages left on bathroom walls, but the university continues to repeat the minimal message, “A general bomb threat has been received for…”
The lack of reasoning regarding the purpose of the mastermind leaves the Pitt campus pathologizing and theorizing about intentions. Is the person trying to leave us with a false sense of security, making a real attack easier? Is the person just a student enjoying the mayhem? Or trying to get out of a test? Or perhaps someone is severely mentally disturbed. However, there is also the chance that this is a piece of political or social action servicing a larger point being made.
It comes as no surprise there is almost no talk of this possibility. Let’s consider the national response to 9/11: Rather than a discussion about our sketchy military presence in the middle east, we began a long-term abusive relationship with the word ‘terrorist’ and general anti-Islam demagoguery sprouted against the Muslim world.
Is there any reason that someone could be angry enough to make such an audacious and disturbing statement? Well, there are the tuition hikes. Also, there’s recent the University decision not to allow trans-gender bathrooms. Finally, we are forgetting the general anti-capitalistic movement—primarily crystalized in the ‘occupiers’—that may invoke someone to lash out at the idea of paying for a degree in the face of the many cheaper methods we could be dispersing education.
Of course, causing thousands of university members to suffer and waste more money seems to be an immature way to evoke discourse about any of these issues; however, the ability of those same members to understand their fear is precluded without any real information.
· · ·
Now, rather than postulating the number of ways we could respond if there were further information to be considered, let’s continue under the assumption there is nothing more to report.
What is the best response?
In the most recent e-mail sent out by Pitt’s chancellor—Mark Nordenberg—he polarizes the possible modes of response between ‘being less cautious’ and ‘going further’:
“At one end of the spectrum are those who feel that we are being too cautious, are creating our own disruptions to campus life through the approach we have chosen, and are consuming too many resources by continuing to evacuate and search every targeted building…at the other end of the spectrum are those who feel that we should go further and close down this campus, either for a specified time or even indefinitely.”
Casting our opposition to the threats on a single axis of ‘caution’ leaves out the possibilities of responses that are less about security and more about the systematic structure of our university. Why not push for professors to record their lectures and put them online? Ask teachers and graduate students running small seminars to open their homes and make use of outdoor accommodations (of course some are already doing this on their own). Generate tests that can be done at home or in groups.
There are a sundry of options that make threats more innocuous and our reactions calm and covert.
My point is not to poke fun at the university for trying to protect our community. What we do see, however, is a pattern of how the general American attitude toward dissidents and public disruption rarely involves understanding the problem or reconciling the idea that we may be the cause of it. Instead, we allow fear to linger over aiding in public comprehension and stick with our extreme reactions over building a tactful response.
· · ·
As I write this it appears that the demon haunting Pitt’s campus has been put into custody (though only time will tell if we have the real perpetrator). From my understanding, a group of redditors cracked the case by paying close attention to the location of bomb threats in accordance with conversations happening on a sub-Reddit regarding the issue.
The only question is now, in the aftermath, will we make a showcase of this person as an example of absolute evil or will we attempt to understand the impetus and rethink how we could have made for a less tumultuous experience?