Rumors ran ablaze at Montclair State University the Sunday before students went on Thanksgiving break when a student reported suspicious individuals carrying a large case in and around Feliciano School of Business.
That case, later revealed to be holding audio-visual and tripod equipment, led students to believe there was a possible sighting of a gun on campus after rumors spread on social media.
Martina Zavalla, a freshman psychology major, was one of the students who heard about the incident on social media.
“I was in my room with my friends and we just saw a story on Snapchat that there was a shooter,” Zavalla said. “We just thought it was fake because a lot of rumors go around.”
Yamilet Nunez, a freshman early childhood education major, was off-campus when the rumor spread, however, she still heard about it through her floor’s GroupMe chat.
“I was really scared for the rest of my friends and I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what if I was on campus?’ and how scared I would be,” Nunez said. “It was just a frightening moment for my parents, me [and my friends].”
Patricia Manon, a freshman biology major, was sleeping in her dorm when she woke up to a message warning her of a shooter on campus. Though there ended up being no threat, Manon said it’s important to question the accuracy of these kinds of things.
“Just don’t listen to people,” Manon said. “Try to investigate for yourself because you never know.”
Other students were dissatisfied with the nearly one-hour time frame in which it took the university to send out a text alert. Dr. Dawn Soufleris, the vice president for student development and campus life, said the administration and University Police Department knew quickly that there wasn’t an imminent threat, but the police had to make determinations before getting information out to the campus community.
“What you don’t want to do is send something out that puts people in an absolute panic, and then it’s not that at all, or send something [saying] that everything’s fine, you know, ‘nothing to see here,’ and then all of a sudden, it’s not that, and it is something to be really concerned about,” Soufleris said.
After resident assistants expressed feeling out of the loop as to what was going on, Soufleris discussed what the administration can do moving forward to help lessen the spread of rumors.
“We did go out to SGA and made sure that the Student Government Association knew what was happening, but we now think, ‘you know what, we should have included [resident assistants] in that,'” Soufleris said. “So, there’s always learning experiences from these things.”
Montclair State President Dr. Jonathan Koppell discussed the importance of becoming consumers of reliable information.
“I think, yes, we have to be good communicators, and we will be, but also people need to become consumers of information,” Koppell said. “I think this is part of the things, like, ‘Well, who did you hear this from? Was it from a credible source?'”
When all was said and done, Koppell said the university police handled the situation appropriately.
“[The university police] took the report seriously even though there was deep skepticism of the report,” Koppell said. “So, let’s figure out exactly what was seen. And not just saying like, ‘No, it wasn’t a gun.’ They actually wanted to figure out well, ‘What was it? Who was it? What did they see?’ And so then we could give a real answer.”
Soufleris encourages any student who sees something to say something, even if it may end up being nothing.
“Even if you have a twinge, you should say something, and then we’ll figure it out afterward,” Soufleris said. “That is the right thing to do as a community member.”