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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: Don't trust UNC in a crisis

A UNC Chapel Hill police officer stands outside the Student Stores building on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020.

“Emergency: Armed, dangerous person on or near campus. Go inside now; avoid windows.”

“Shelter in place

Avoid area near ACC”

“Armed individual near Ambulatory Care Center; shelter in place immediately”

These were the messages sent to the campus community via Alert Carolina late Friday morning, following reports of an armed and dangerous person at the Ambulatory Care Center. Those near campus heard the screeching of emergency sirens and watched in fear as dozens of police vehicles rushed to the scene. 

Students, faculty and staff began to panic. Many of us had questions. Who is this armed individual? What is the ACC, and where is it located? And, most importantly, what exactly is going on?

But no one had answers. The Daily Tar Heel made several attempts to contact UNC Police and UNC Media Relations, but had little success. At one point, when asked for more information, UNC Media Relations simply sent the DTH the original Alert Carolina message.

Approximately 40 minutes later, UNC issued an all-clear, encouraging everyone to “resume normal activities.” We were relieved, but perhaps more confused than ever. 

What had just happened? 

The answers came later, in the form of a message from George Battle, vice chancellor for institutional integrity and risk management, who said there was “no evidence” of an armed individual at the Ambulatory Care Center on Friday. Battle apologized for the "delay in communications" as the investigation was ongoing. 

A lack of communication invites fear and panic. It creates room for rumors and speculation to spread — particularly on social media — that exacerbate the situation. UNC pays many of its communications professionals hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, yet they are seemingly unable to do just that: communicate. 

When we hear the words “armed, dangerous person,” we assume the worst. Why wouldn’t we? We’ve grown up in a world where mass shootings occur at an alarming rate, and as a result, no place feels truly safe, including our own campus. 

Incidents like these are not normal and should not be treated as such. We were left feeling shaken, confused, distressed. We couldn’t “resume normal activities.” But it didn’t matter — professors kept teaching, requiring attendance and even holding exams as if nothing had happened. 

Though disappointed, we weren’t surprised. The University has repeatedly proved itself incompetent in moments of crisis. 

In March 2019, the University was criticized heavily for failing to inform the community of armed white supremacists on campus. Rather than making an arrest, UNC Police let them go with a handshake and a friendly warning — despite the fact that one of the men had previously stated he was “ready to kill” for his beliefs. 

Last year, after a series of incidents left female students feeling unsafe on campus, the University’s use — or lack thereof — of the Alert Carolina notification system was once again called into question.

And on Aug. 28, the University announced it would no longer alert the community of new COVID-19 clusters through Alert Carolina, leaving many questioning its motives and commitment to transparency. 

So why did the University choose to send a message following unconfirmed (albeit concerning) reports of an armed individual on campus, when it has largely remained silent in the face of confirmed ones? A threat is a threat, and we have the right to know about any and all instances in which we may be in danger — not just the ones UNC decides are worth telling us about. 

The situation proves we simply can’t trust UNC to be transparent, not even when danger is imminent. When we needed them most, they weren’t there. Instead, they were as ambiguous and impenetrable as ever. 


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