Students express concerns about UCLA’s handling of safety amid threats to campus
Students expressed feelings of anxiety and concern regarding UCLA’s response to a former philosophy lecturer’s threats of a mass shooting in emails sent to students and faculty Jan. 31. Many students felt the university’s communication with students about the threats was inadequate. (Constanza Montemayor/Daily Bruin senior staff)
This post was updated Feb. 14 at 12:02 a.m.
Students expressed feelings of shock and anxiety following days wracked by threats of violence on campus in the midst of returning to in-person learning.
On the afternoon of Jan. 31, a former UCLA philosophy lecturer sent threats of a mass shooting to students and faculty, and at night, there were community reports of possible gunshots on Hilgard Avenue, where sorority houses are located. The next day, there were reports of the unrelated death of a student living on the Hill.
UCLA announced a task force Feb. 7 that plans to examine how information about threats to campus safety is disseminated to Bruins.
Trevor Brown was in his room working on an essay when he first received messages from a class GroupMe about the mass shooting threats against the school that afternoon.
“The whole GroupMe sort of descended into a frenzy about this shooter and no one knew what was going on. And we were genuinely terrified,” said the third-year global studies transfer student.
Jazmin Rivera, a fourth-year labor studies and political science student, spent the afternoon participating in the sit-in on the second floor of Murphy Hall to protest the lack of online learning options and was at her apartment in Westwood when she heard news of the threats. She said her mother called, worried for her safety, and she spent Tuesday anxious about the possibility of a violent event at the school.
“I spent (Tuesday) really anxious, just from going to sleep Monday night not knowing whether you’re going to wake up to a mass shooting event the next day or a bombing threat,” said Rivera, who is also the labor secretary of the Student Labor Advocacy Project.
She said that since finding out the university had known of the former philosophy lecturer’s threatening behaviors for an extended period of time, she was not surprised by the school’s lack of response or communication.
“I wasn’t shocked when I found out that UCLA knew about the shooting (threats). I wasn’t even surprised,” Rivera added. “It was kind of like, ‘Of course they knew. Of course they knew, and of course they weren’t going to tell us.'”
Allegra Melloul, a fourth-year philosophy transfer student, said she and other philosophy students first received an email regarding the threats from the philosophy department around 3:30 p.m.
Being in class at the time, Melloul waited until her lecture ended to research the issue further. She was shocked that students were permitted to remain in class with the presence of a serious threat and saw a lot of confusion among other students, she added.
“I started talking to my friends who weren’t philosophy majors, and I was asking them if they had gotten any emails about it, and they hadn’t,” Melloul said. “I don’t understand the logic of, ‘This guy’s threatening to shoot up the philosophy department, let’s just only tell philosophy students and not the rest of the school,’ as if he’s only going to shoot up Dodd Hall.”
Without further information from the university and hoping to help fellow students sort through the information, Melloul said she compiled information about the mass shooting threat in a Google document.
Before she could share it with fellow students, however, she called a friend to discuss the threat, and her friend’s father, a journalist for the Los Angeles Times, overheard the conversation. He asked her to share the document, and said the LA Times had been unaware of the threats until that moment, she said.
“The LA Times had no idea that this was even a situation, and when they reached out to the LAPD, LAPD also had no idea of this problem, which is insane,” Melloul added. “And so because we had sent that master (document), it got on LAPD’s radar.”
Brown added the lack of communication from UCLA until around midnight about the former philosophy lecturer made it difficult for students to determine if anyone threatening was on campus.
“It was so shocking, and I feel like everyone at school sort of stopped in their tracks for that day and just was kind of like, ‘What’s going on?’” Brown said.
Emma Buxton, a first-year biochemistry student, said without information from the university, many rumors began to spread about the different situations on campus. She added that the university could have released a statement and immediately canceled classes or switched to remote instruction to avoid the chaos caused by a lack of information.
“I’m honestly pretty disappointed in the university for that, because I feel like with such a sensitive situation that could obviously put a lot of people in danger, it was so crazy that only one day would be canceled,” Buxton said.
The former lecturer was taken into police custody in Boulder the morning of Feb. 1.
Several students said they felt many UCLA faculty members are failing to effectively address students’ needs.
Although the university emailed students Counseling and Psychological Services resources and held Zoom community meetings, Melloul said, she did not understand how UCLA could expect students to continue working through the week and taking midterm exams as planned.
“We’re constantly being stressed out by external factors like … some people being uncomfortable with coming to class in person because of the pandemic that’s still going on, this school shooting threat, and then the way that the school reacted, so we know that the school would keep it (on) the down low if they could,” Melloul said.
Brown said he felt not many faculty members seemed to account for the events of the past week when requiring students to complete their midterms.
“So many students in this school are crying out for help, and no one is listening,” Brown said. “I just feel like there’s such a disconnect between these teachers … and the students, especially this quarter.”
Melloul added that the university had known of the former philosophy lecturer’s concerning behaviors since at least the year before, and felt they wrongfully avoided taking action to continue with plans to return to in-person instruction.
“I think UCLA was really pushing to go back in person, and they didn’t want any attention surrounding the protests … and when the (shooting threat) happened, they didn’t want any attention around that either,” Melloul said. “They put us in this position. None of this had to happen if the school wasn’t so worried about keeping their public image intact.”
In an emailed statement, UCLA spokesperson Bill Kisliuk referred concerned students to the past week’s UCLA RISE Center Zoom events “Stress and Resilience: Regaining Calm after Chaos” and the announcement of the new task force to assess protocols for potential threats.
The ongoing student sit-in was already a protest for the university to prioritize student safety, and the new threat only further emphasized their point, Rivera said.
“The Disabled Student Union, the Mother Organizations, (the Undergraduate Students Association Council), came to the sit-in because of students’ safety, or the lack of student safety in the middle of this pandemic. So, again, (it) just goes to show that UCLA does not care about us,” she said. “They don’t care if we die of COVID, they don’t care if we die of a shooting threat, they’ve made that very clear.”