Campus residents expressed outrage at a Feb. 26 town hall meeting hosted by the Residential Hall Association a day after they said SF State administrators failed to communicate effectively with the community in the aftermath of a nearby shooting and power outage that left students in the dark about their safety.
Users of the Wildfire and Citizen apps reported a suspect fleeing from a shooting at Serrano Drive and Cardenas Avenue, just a block from the J. Paul Leonard Library, shortly after 7 p.m. Feb. 25, and it took three hours for administrators to issue a statement. In the absence of official information, unofficial reports and rumors snowballed on both apps and on social media.
“We were advised not to pay attention to ‘fake news’ like the Citizen and Wildfire apps,” 19-year-old Mary Ward Hall resident Kristian Morgan said. “The University gave us no choice but to pay attention to those apps [though], we had nothing but radio silence from them. We were like sitting ducks.”
To make matters worse, just after 11 p.m. there was a power outage, followed by fireworks near the Towers that were at first rumored to be a second shooting incident.
The RHA town hall offered students a chance to voice their concerns with the way the University handled the incidents of the night before and many were frustrated, scared and confused.
Many students were particularly worried when they say they were told by the University Police Department that because the shooting was a block away from campus, the school was not legally required to issue warnings.
“Even if it was just a block away, that’s only a block!” University Park North resident Jorge Ruiz said. “I feel like we were lucky that that guy didn’t turn onto campus because he thought it would be the easiest getaway. The campus is pretty big, you can go a lot of places and hide pretty effectively.”
Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Luoluo Hong sent an email to the community around 3 p.m. the day after the series of incidents to assure students they were never at risk.
“Last evening three independent events near and on campus may have caused distress,” Hong said in the email. “We want to assure our students, faculty, staff and neighbors that the campus community was and is in no danger.
“We recognize that these events caused confusion and concern among the campus,” the email continued. “It is our practice to provide timely updates to the campus community in instances of imminent threat.”
But one student at the RHA town hall pointed out that the suspect who fled remained at large, and at some point they said they saw University police perform a security sweep of campus. They believe this suggested that there was a time during the three-hour window that UPD could not
confirm there was not an imminent threat.
“I believe that the University failed in their ability to communicate to students what was happening during the times there was an active crime scene,” Associated Students RHA Representative Joshua Ochoa said. “They failed to send any form of communication to students for three hours. Students in the residential communities, in the Library and elsewhere on campus weren’t sure if it was even safe to go outside.”
All six of the RHA board members present at the town hall commiserated with their peers, noting that they, too, had been scared by the barrage of events.
RHA President Maya Maldonado noted that the University seemed to treat power outages with greater gravity than the security concerns raised by a shooting only a block from campus.
“They’re very quick to announce power outages, like I got phone calls at like 5 a.m. the other week,” she said. “If only they had that same energy and receptivity to crime on our campus.”
Maldonado said RHA plans to meet with UPD and administrators to discuss what can be done differently in the future to provide students with more timely communications regarding security concerns.
“We should know what’s going on a block away from our campus,” Maldonado said. “We should definitely look into having some kind of conversation with the University and UPD on setting up some lines of proximity, because simply just pushing it away and saying, ‘Well it wasn’t technically on campus’— it’s obvious that’s not enough for us.”
A previous version of this story mis-attributed the following quote to President of UPN Hall Government Natalie Hartshorne, “When I heard about that last night I was literally shaking [talking] to my mom because it’s not OK and SF State should take account of what did happen and try to make better decisions.” This was said by a different speaker at the townhall meeting. Xpress regrets this error.