The Campus Grapevine: A Cautionary Tale
Situations promoting campus alerts can be disruptive, but also informative. The University at Buffalo’s Joseph Brennan recalls an incident where a student reported seeing a man enter the campus library while carrying what appeared to be a rifle. Immediately upon hearing the report, officials issued an alert using the university’s system from Rave Mobile Safety. Recipients of the message were advised to stay away from the area, and the building was searched. “No one with a gun was ever found,” he says, “but that didn’t stop the rumors.” They included a story from one student whose friend routinely studied in the library at a time corresponding with the alleged sighting. Since his friend hadn’t been in touch, the alarmist assumed his friend was being held hostage—a sentiment he didn’t keep to himself. Misinformation such as that spread quickly across campus.
“In this rapid communications world, the grapevine is on steroids,” Brennan says. “At the same time, from the administrative side, it can be very difficult to know what you’re dealing with.”
Fortunately, in this case, the concerns proved baseless, and the incident proved to be a learning experience. While providing a real-life demonstration that the system worked, follow-up analysis showed that only 37 percent of students were enrolled in the notification system at that time. Those results prompted campus leaders to promote the system more intensively in the following months.