CSULB students react to lack of communication one week after alleged violent threat
By Alejandro Ramos Athletics Editor
and Amanda Del Cid Social Media Manager
Administrators at California State University, Long Beach are being put under the microscope after news of an under-reported incident on campus broke on social media, rather than through official university channels.
News of an alleged altercation involving two students and a knife in a sociology class on Feb. 25 did not come out until CSULB student Mel Gutierrez shared what she knew of it through a series of Facebook posts on Wednesday, March 2. Her posts were mostly based on hearsay, but generated a discussion that got students demanding answers.
“The student who did this is still attending this university,” Gutierrez wrote. “Students were not notified after the event; no emails were sent out to anyone, not even faculty.”
The university remained silent on the matter until Thursday, March 3, when the CSULB Office of Media and Government Relations released a statement on CSULB’s Facebook page about the alleged altercation.
“Since this incident took place, members of the campus community have expressed concerns about safety,” wrote Terri M. Carbaugh, Associate Vice President of Government and Media Relations. “The safety of students, faculty, staff and visitors is always a critical concern. While it was determined that there was no imminent physical threat, even the perception of a threat can cause distress.”
CSULB President Jane Close Conoley explained that the school tends to hold back information after threat assessments come back negative. Campus leaders hold back this information from students until the event is fully investigated. “In this case, such caution caused more concern,” Conoley said in an email to Union Weekly. “Please know, however, we do this to protect both the victims and the alleged perpetrators.”
Facebook comments by students on both CSULB and Gutierrez’s Facebook posts expressed frustration with the university’s disregard for student awareness. When the university did communicate with students, gaps of silence between statements from the administration left students with more questions than answers.
“We get immediate emails regarding someone getting molested at an off campus party but they wait until the students themselves make it public on social media to say something about this?” Lety Perez Correa commented on CSULB’s Facebook post.
Correa was referring to a campus-wide email sent out by the University the day after the alleged sexual assault occurred at the Kappa Sigma fraternity house, but expressed concerns with not being alerted by email about this on-campus incident until 9 p.m. Thursday, March 5—one week after it occurred.
“What we know is that a male student was seen holding a small knife (2.5 inches) in a sociology class on February 25,” Conoley said in a campus-wide email sent out around 10 a.m. on Friday, March 4. “The professor perceived a threat and asked the student to leave. He did.”
University Police was immediately notified, but turned the case over to the Long Beach Police Department. According to Sgt. Brad Johnson, spokesperson for the LBPD, they have launched their own investigation when it became known that “a relative of the student is an employee of the University Police Department.”
In the week following the alleged altercation, assistant professor Sabrina Alimahomed did not attend class and it is alleged by Gutierrez that she has taken a three-week leave of absence. Her students were told that the person in question had been relocated to a different class and that their class would be moved to a different building. The resolutions they were given were not enough to settle their nerves in regards to why the incident took so long to be discussed campus-wide.
“I felt that it was something other students should’ve been warned about,” said Savannah Williams, a student in the class at the time of the incident. “Other students obviously felt threatened...some students couldn’t even come to school.”
Comments on Gutierrez’s Facebook post expressed that students were not pleased by the university’s lack of transparency surrounding the incident. They reflected confusion with the sequence of events, from the incident itself to the way it was handled.
“Has this student been expelled from the university? If not, how are we as students supposed to feel safe on campus and in classrooms?” wrote Christian Castillo on CSULB’s Facebook post. “Why was there not an email sent out regarding the incident?”
Conoley has stated that her goal is to respond to those feel this incident is an assault on their safety.
“I’ve heard from many students, most not in that class I think, who think that their experiences of vulnerability as women of color are not recognized by me or other administrators,” Conoley said. “Nothing could be further from the truth as I know it, but I’m checking every detail of how we responded.”
Much of the criticism coming from students is being directed at Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, Jeffrey Klaus. Gutierrez claims to have met with Klaus on March 2 to discuss the issue at hand. Klaus allegedly informed her that he had spoken to several students from the class and that they weren’t too shaken up by it.
“I have had a couple students message me [on Facebook] saying they were in that class and felt threatened...some didn’t even go to class the next day because they were too scared,” Gutierrez wrote. “So basically his evaluation of a safe environment was determined on a select few students who didn’t even know what was happening in the class at the time of the incident.”
Klaus spoke at the Sociology Student Association (SSA) meeting Wednesday night. According to CSULB SSA’s recap of the meeting on their Facebook page, he stated that he had deemed the assailant was “‘not a threat’ because he was cooperative and has no criminal record.” He also allegedly likened the incident to another crime that occurred on campus: “There was a theft in the bookstore last week, do you need to know about that too?”
An article in the Daily 49er defined timely warning emails to students, faculty, and staff as requirements under the Jeanne Clery Act—an act instructing colleges funded by the government to send out information regarding on and off campus-related crime.
“What we know is that most of the students did not see the knife,” Conoley said. “This fact is irrelevant to any assessment of threat, but it indicates the complexity of understanding what happened. Social media helped by making people aware of the event, but hurt by sharing misinformation.”
The misinformation Conoley referenced stems from several Facebook and Instagram posts stating that similar altercations occurred during the week the CSULB began informing students of the Feb. 25 altercation. These posts on social media have not been verified by any campus authorities.
“We are very much still investigating the context of all the relationships in the Sociology class to understand how the experience of seeing a knife affected the Professor and a few of the students,” Conoley said. “I see the reactions to this classroom incident as a sign of our critical need to understand the lived experiences of all of our Beach students, faculty, and staff,”
Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Carmen Taylor is leading a student forum in the University Student Union Ballrooms on Thursday, March 10 at 4:30 p.m. An email from Student Affairs was sent to all students Friday, March 4, to inform them that the forum is intended to be a place for students to “create a dialogue” and give their reactions to members of Student Affairs.
This story will be updated as more information is released.
**Edited on March 4 to reflect new information and include President Conoley’s emailed campus-wide statement**
**Edited on March 5 for clarity and to include new correspondence with President Conoley**
Bailey Mount, Andrew Linde, Lauren Hunter, Matt Gozzip and Katie Cortez also contributed to this report.