Illinois State University sophomore Melissa Ahrens said she wasn’t afraid to walk around campus on her own last year. But after hearing allegations of violence in recent weeks, she is worried about stepping out of the dining room, especially after dark.
Ahrens armed himself with a knife and pepper spray.
“The walk to and from (Tri-Towers), there is no blue light, there really isn’t a lot of street lights and it’s right next to a residential area so it can be a little scary, âAhrens said.
Ahrens and other students spoke, mostly on social media, that their safety was at risk due to allegations of violence and suspicious vehicles that circulated over the past week.
“I would rather just call someone at random from my floor rather than call 911.”
Melissa Ahrens, second year ISU student
It is not clear if these kidnapping attempts actually took place, but what is clear is that some students do not feel safe and do not feel that the police are listening to their concerns.
The ISU sent an alert to the campus last week to respond to these complaints. He said the police were actively investigating, but the Normal Police Department confirmed that there had been no kidnapping attempts.
Anna Woods is a graduate music student. Woods said the post didn’t reassure him.
âThe school didn’t really talk much about it,â Woods said. “I feel like they sent out a vague email which I think scares (people) more, especially the women here on campus.”
Threats of violence on the ISU campus do not only concern women. Harrison Gordon is a second year music business student. He said violence was the biggest threat to campus security, but said police didn’t seem to take it seriously.
“They are much more focused on Saturday nights and Friday nights doing things like throwing parties or giving out drink tickets than they ever try to protect our women in town from violence or sexual violence,” he said. Gordon said.
ISU Police Chief Aaron Woodruff said the report on the kidnapping attempt that fueled most student concerns was based on a call from a student who felt she had been pursued in his building.
Woodruff said he didn’t want to ignore his fear or his interpretation of events, but said an investigation by the ISU and normal police found no evidence to verify his claims. Woodruff said that if the community doesn’t want to believe this, there’s not much the police can do.
âIt’s a problem. I can’t fix this problem for our community if they don’t want to believe what we’re saying that the evidence doesn’t support it,â Woodruff said.
Brad Park is the Normal Police Department’s Community Resources Officer. Park said normal police had no evidence to prove or disprove any security threats on the ISU campus. Park said police tried to allay students’ fears for their safety, but said social media made it difficult to monitor the post.
“The message that comes out is like the phone game, things change as the message goes.”
Brad Park, Normal Police Department
âThe messaging that goes out is like the phone game. Things change as the message moves forward, âPark said. “We just want to have a unified message with what we know.”
Social media has amplified student concerns about safety, but it can become an echo chamber.
Nate Carpenter is the Director of Converged Media at the ISU School of Communication. He said it is difficult to use social media as an accurate indicator.
âMany people can share the same incident over and over again as it feels like it is happening anywhere, where it can be an isolated incident shared across several different networks,â Carpenter explained.
Carpenter said most of the threat discussions online took place on social media channels that are mostly private, such as Snapchat and WhatsApp – the most popular social media among college students, so they don’t get wider exposure through a more public site like Facebook, where more people can see it and perhaps take threats more seriously.
âWhat I’ve seen with this problem over the last week is that there is a lag in media consumption and production,â Carpenter said.
Carpenter said anyone who is worried about their safety shouldn’t rely on social media. He said they should go to the authorities. But several students, including ISU sophomore Melissa Ahrens, say they don’t believe talking to the police will make a big difference.
âI would rather just randomly call someone from my floor rather than call 911,â Ahrens said.
Chief Woodruff said he is concerned that students will come to conclusions based on bad information that feeds on their anxieties and fears.
âUnfortunately, if they don’t follow us and just follow each other and share the wrong information, that erases everything,â Woodruff said.
Woodruff said the ISU PD uses a tiered system to communicate threats to the campus community. The department sends emergency SMS alerts for impending threats. For less immediate incidents, the ISU will send a crime notice. He said the department would use social media for less campus-specific security concerns, such as the recent fatal shooting at a mobile home park in north Normal.
Illinois State University President Terri Goss Kinzy said she encourages everyone on campus to take care of themselves, to look out for each other. And she said if you see something, report it immediately.
“We want people to have confidence, but we also want them to be diligent, and we want them to use the services that we offer and know that we are not thinking about it today because it has happened. ; it’s something we think about every day, âKinzy told La Vidette.