Letter to campus contains resources; town hall response
Published 5:08 pm Thursday, February 14, 2019
Following a town hall held at Longwood University Wednesday in which dozens of students and community members voiced concern, frustration and potential solutions about campus safety issues, Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Tim Pierson sent an email to students on campus that provided resources from Longwood University Police Department and pledged to implement the discussions and suggestions that took place.
Pierson spoke on a panel that included Longwood Student Government Association President Josh Darst, Longwood University Chief Col. Bob Beach, Assistant Vice President for Communications Matt McWilliams and Associate Dean for Student Conduct and Integrity Jen Fraley.
“The discussion was at times emotional, but constructive. It speaks well of our community that we’re able to come together and talk about a range of issues and challenges, to try to better understand the perspectives of others, and to channel constructive criticism into improvement,” Pierson said in the email.
Email newsletter signup
Pierson included resources that community members and students can check to be familiar with campus police activity. He cited the LUPD home page, the department’s daily crime log, links to Longwood’s annual Clery Report on campus safety, a Q&A that further explains how the university handles emergency situations, and public information programs campus police oversee to prepare campus for emergencies.
In the statement, Pierson provided an overview of the town hall, and of the Jan. 27 case that shook Longwood Village residents, the community and the campus at large.
“There is truly nothing Longwood takes more seriously than our work together to make sure our campus is as safe as it can possibly be, and overall safety lies at the heart of every decision we make about communication,” Pierson said. “We have learned from experience there are real dangers in sharing unverified information, or in causing students to stop paying attention by sending out too much, too often. When there is a threat, it’s potentially a matter of life and death that students pay urgent attention, and take the action instructed. That’s why we, and campus police across the country, reserve emergency alerts for ‘verified and ongoing’ threats to campus security.”
“What we heard from you in the days that followed and last night is that there was genuine fear and anxiety on campus as word of the incident spread,” Pierson said. “We should have done more, and faster, to follow up with campus emails conveying what we were able to share, why this was a serious situation but we were confident not a threat to campus, and the steps we were taking, such as increased police patrols, to ensure that was the case. That criticism is fair, and we’re sorry. We are always working to get this difficult balance right, and going forward we promise we will work hard to do better and restore whatever trust we may have lost.”
TOWN HALL RESPONSE
Longwood senior student Ashtyn Clark said she first heard about the suspect, Malcolm Deon Leviege, making threats to students in an email from Longwood addressed to students.
She then heard rumors that the suspect carried a weapon and then saw photos of Leviege with a weapon at Longwood Village.
“I believed that if it was truly a threat to our safety, I knew that Longwood would have responded properly, but as soon as the pictures started circulating earlier this week, it was extremely evident that it was much bigger and much more serious than we could have imagined,” Clark said.
Concerning the town hall meeting, she voiced a response shared by a number of students that it was encouraging to attend, seeing the number of students, community members and faculty concerned, discussing the issue with administration directly and seeing the administration further understand student concerns. She said she felt frustrated that the incident occurred in the first place.
“I attended the town hall meeting last night and was overwhelmed by the student and faculty/staff turnout,” Clark said. “After last night, I have never felt more connected to the students who were in attendance and confident in the ability for citizen leadership among us, but at the same time, I am even more infuriated than I was before I went. A common theme that was touched on throughout the night was the level of distrust that the students have in both the law enforcement and administration. Over and over, Chief Beach, Tim Pierson and Matt McWilliams tried to assure us that we can absolutely trust them to keep us safe and that they have our best interest, but there was no plan or change of action discussed about how they would show us that we could trust them. Talk is cheap — showing us is what matters.”
“This generation of college students has grown up seeing mass shootings pretty much our entire life,” Clark said.
“I truly believe that we have a different level of fear and paranoia about these kinds of incidents than other people tend to want to believe, at least I do,” Clark said. “When going off to college, at the least, I want to know that every single precaution is going to be taken to ensure my safety, even in a ‘non-imminent’ threat situation.”
“The moment the phone call came in to the police about a masked gunman, we should have been sent an e-alert immediately with the description of the gunman,” Clark said. “Even if the police tracked him out of town, which they say they did, we still deserved to be in the know that there was someone in direct vicinity of our students with a weapon. I truly believe that if students hadn’t started asking questions and making noise about this incident, Longwood would have never issued any kind of message to the students telling us about the gunman.”
She said that the university would need to be held accountable to ensure that change is implemented.
“We are a very small, tight-knit community, and if one of us is threatened and intimidated, we all are,” Clark said.