An unspecified violent threat was made against schools in the Philadelphia area to be carried out on October 5. The FBI Liaison for Colleges and Universities in the region notified Swarthmore’s Department of Public Safety on October 2. The department sent out an awareness bulletin two days later, causing unease and anxiety among students both at the college and throughout Philadelphia. Despite the warnings and safety procedures, no violent actions actually occurred on the specified day.
“The information that we received pertained to a nonspecific threat and there was no indication that there was an active or ongoing safety concern,” said Michael Hill, director of public safety.
The threat was posted on 4chan, an anonymous image board website that was also used a week prior to warn students of violent action in the Northwest the day before the Umpqua College massacre in Oregon.
The Philadelphia threat post read: “The first of our kind has struck fear into the hearts of America. His cries have been heard, even by the President. On October 5, 2015 at 1:00 p.m. CT, a fellow robot will take up arms against a university near Philadelphia. His cries will be heard, his victims will cower in fear, and the strength of the Union will decay a little more.”
The post referenced what is known on 4chan as the “Beta Rebellion,” explaining that more “brothers” would take on the rebellion’s cause in light of the Umpqua shooting the previous week. The “Beta Rebellion” is a common term used among a subset of the 4chan community, known as the /r9k/ thread, whose users are self-described “social outcasts.” These individuals often write of their resentment of “normies” — or well-socialized people — and discuss how these individuals have motivated the betas’ exclusion from society.
Despite a general lack of clarity around the threat’s details, the college’s Public Safety advised students to remain aware of their surroundings and to report suspicious activity or behavior to Public Safety immediately, but not to change their routines.
“Although the threat did make many feel uneasy, especially because it came a week after the tragic shooting in Oregon, we had to trust that Public Safety was taking all the appropriate measures,” said Rachel Bronkema ’18. “At first I thought that with a shooting threat, class should definitely be cancelled and students should stay in their rooms. Then I realized that such threats are probably not uncommon, and Public Safety knows how to best interpret these messages and analyze their credibility.”
Another student, Barbara Taylor ’18, felt differently.
“I noticed that there were more public safety officers walking around and patrolling,” she said. But I feel like for the amount of anxiety and fear that some people felt that there could’ve been more done.”
Some students at Swarthmore did not go to classes, and some even went home for the day.
“With the threat coming on the heels of the Oregon college shooting, my parents were probably a little more worried than usual, so they didn’t want to take any risks at all,” a student from the class of 2018, who requested to remain anonymous, commented.
“I only live three hours away, so a friend and I set up a carpool to go home for the day.”
Universities in the Philadelphia area responded in more or less the same way as Swarthmore. No schools are known to have cancelled classes, but public security on most campuses was increased for the day. Schools as far as Lehigh University, which is situated an hour and a half away from Philadelphia in Bethlehem, were also on alert and warned their students of the threat.
“Some professors cancelled classes and even pushed back midterms,” said Ella Chan ’17, a student at the University of Pennsylvania. “But all my classes resumed as per normal. An email was also sent to the Penn community that security was tightened and we should not be afraid.”
An increased security presence was also felt at La Salle University, but just as at UPenn, classes were not cancelled.
“Initially my school’s response to the threat was to simply remain in contact with Philadelphia law enforcement,” said La Salle student James Manville ’18. “However, on the day of the threat more police officers were present on campus at the request of my school. Classes for the day were not cancelled by my school.”
Alykhan Popat ’19 of Drexel University said his classes resumed as usual too, but expressed that measures taken by his schools did not make him feel adequately safe.
“Our school barely took actions/ First off classes were still going on even though there was a threat. Minor actions such as an increase in security officers and a warning to stay indoors between 1-2pm but otherwise that was it,” Popat said.
“I do not support the choices my school made as a school shooting is a big deal,” he added. “I think that Drexel should have shut down for the day. I also believe that students were not notified enough and Drexel did not stress enough concern about the situation.”
The college has a comprehensive approach to managing incidents on campus, which includes worst case scenario evacuation plans as well as responses to shooting threats. Public Safety meets regularly with a group of college administrators, including faculty and staff, to discuss safety issues and the school’s preparedness in case of emergencies.