A PSUTXT alert, sent April 17, said “Police are searching for a black male who made an indirect threat in HUB.” The man was arrested a few hours later.
Some students didn’t see the value in identifying the culprit as simply a “black male” — a description certainly too vague to be useful in this circumstance.
“A lot of our friends were offended and scared,” NAACP Vice President Keisha Odunze said to the Daily Collegian soon after the incident occurred. “Our African-American male friends — they didn’t want to get racially profiled while going to class.”
David Gray, the Senior Vice President for Finance and Business, and Stephen G. Shelow, the Assistant Vice President for University Police and Public Safety,cosigned an apology regarding the text alert to anyone who may have been offended by the racial identifier.
The statement read:
On April 17, the University issued a text alert indicating that police were searching for a black male who had made an indirect threat in the HUB. That message followed reports from students, who said that threatening statements had been heard suggesting that this unidentified black male and his companion might take action to harm people.
Obviously, the University takes very seriously its commitment to public safety. In the interest of time, but without adequate descriptive details, the text alert was issued to both warn and to seek assistance in the investigation. We now believe the message was too vague. By issuing the statement with the limited information available, we inadvertently encouraged anxiety on the part of all black males in particular, but also among a significant portion of our faculty, students and staff on campus at that time. That was not our intent, but the lack of intent does little to relieve the anxiety caused.
We regret any harm that resulted from our action.
We are committed to reviewing our policies and practices related to the issuance of such text alerts. We must balance the profound interest in public safety with sensitivity to any potential unintended consequences that could be caused by these alerts. Penn State is a large, increasingly diverse community, that seeks to welcome and include all students, faculty, staff and visitors. That ambition is more than a goal; it is a promise.
We apologize again for any harm done by the April 17 text alert, and we recommit the University to its continuing determination to improve these processes for the safety and general well-being of our community.