When UT doesn’t release information about on-campus incidents in a timely manner, students panic

Liza Anderson

At 11:15 Monday night, UTPD responded to a disturbance at the Union. According to UTPD, a non-UT affiliated man yelled threats within the communal space. UTPD pursued him to the 24th block of Guadalupe, where he was arrested. He was unarmed. 

If you asked a UT student what was happening last night, the answer would have been very different. Distorted descriptions of the event circulated quickly through the UT community.  

I got a text from a friend: “Did y’all hear anything about an armed robbery in the Union rn? Like right now, right now?” 

One of our reporters reached out to UTPD for a comment, but they didn’t respond right away. Meanwhile, screenshots of group chat messages filtered into The Daily Texan’s staff chat, painting a disturbing scene.

“There’s an armed robbery going on in the Union rn holy shit.” 

“Her roommate saw a guy with a gun and yelling near the Union.” 

“They’re all in a locked room hiding.” 

“Apparently the dude left the Union and is on his way to West Campus.” 

Some of the messages came from people who claimed to have witnessed the event.

“I just ran away from a gunman who was exiting the UT Union, aiming his handgun at people as I was walking by.” 

“Every person in the room bolted.”  

No word at this point from UTPD. 

One parent tweeted at UTPD: “My daughter just informed me of a shooting at/near UT! What’s happening?” 

At 11:55 p.m., I received an email from UTPD through their campuswide safety alert system. The scene was clear, the suspect had been arrested — and he was unarmed. 

Some students received the email sooner than others, but the earliest time I’ve found is 11:44pm. 

For 30 minutes, students panicked. Their parents panicked. 

This is not acceptable. Thirty minutes of confusion and fear, with no word from anyone who could tell us if it was warranted. 

We’ve been here before. 

In May 2017, Harrison Brown and three other students were stabbed in broad daylight on Speedway. Police were on the scene immediately, and the suspect was arrested within two minutes. It took them almost an hour to send an alert. 

I was in a lecture class when the stabbing happened. A student interrupted the professor’s lecture and said, “I think there’s a shooting on Speedway.” 

I remember what happened next very clearly. The professor looked at his phone, said he hadn’t gotten anything from the University and kept teaching while a student veteran blockaded the doors. 

It took UTPD almost an hour to send us a text. In that time, rumors about mass violence flew through UT’s social media world. When things like this happen, our minds always go to the worst case scenario — on this campus, can you blame us? 

UTPD has long since tried to make up for this mistake. They’ve owned up to it. Earlier this year, representatives from UTPD sat down with The Daily Texan to explain why this wouldn’t happen again. 

But at 8:46 p.m. on Sept. 10, 2018, UTPD tweeted that they were “responding to woman stabbed at 27th and Whitis. Avoid the area. Suspect at large, described as shorter white male. Updates to follow.” That was it. 

Campus panicked again. 

And UTPD apologized again. They said it wasn’t actually a stabbing, and in an attempt to send information as quickly as possible, they had used the wrong word. 

UTPD faced a lot of criticism for what happened in September, and once again they tried to improve their system. 

UTPD works hard to keep this campus safe, and they do an excellent job. But their track record for keeping students informed is poor. 

We need a better system for informing students when incidents take place on or around campus. 

Know this is not a normal university. Understand this place has a history students can’t ignore when feeling fear on campus. 

Some students on this campus can still remember how Haruka Weiser’s corpse smelled. Some students watched Harrison Brown bleed to death outside the gym. 

Half of the students here today have memories of violence on this campus, and the rest of them have heard the stories enough to understand our fear. 

Call it mass hysteria if you want, but UT students respond differently to threats of violence on campus — even when they are only threats. 

On another campus, maybe you can afford to take your time getting your facts straight and coordinating a response. But not here. 

UTPD did not respond to a request for comment before this piece went to print. 

Anderson is a Plan II and history junior from Houston. She is the editor-in-chief.