Cal State Long Beach President Jane Close Conoley apologized to the campus community in an email Friday morning for the lack of transparency by university officials involving an incident last week, during which a student allegedly brandished a small knife during a class.
“I am saddened to report that late last week a classroom incident created significant anxiety among those who witnessed it and additional anxiety among those who heard of it,” Close Conoley said in the email.
The reported incident happened on Thursday, February 25 during a sociology class, according to officials. The professor allegedly perceived a threat when a male student was seen holding a small knife measuring 2 1/2 inches and asked the student to leave, which he did.
According to the student newspaper the Daily 49er, Close Conoley addressed the issue during an Academic Senate meeting Thursday afternoon, during which she said the student was cleared by campus police to carry the knife. The university's policy regarding knives includes the prohibition of a "knife with a blade measuring over 2 1/2 inches in length."
CSULB students expressed outrage this week once information of the event caught wind on social media, spurred by fellow students. Though officials have not confirmed details, students with knowledge of the incident claimed a white male student pulled out a knife during a heated discussion with a female black student.
During a Sociology Student Association meeting Wednesday night, Jeff Klaus, associate vice president and dean of students, told attendees that officials decided not to issue a timely warning notice after interviewing a handful of witnesses and determining “there was no immediate threat to any students on campus,” according to CSULB student Mel Gutierrez, who attended the meeting.
Gutierrez also claimed Klaus stated the male student only took out the knife “because he was cleaning his fingernails with it.”
“As per our usual protocol, the alleged perpetrator underwent a threat assessment,” Close Conoley stated. “In our best professional judgment he did not pose a serious or imminent threat to our campus. This is why a 'timely warning' was not issued.”
The incident prompted an investigation from CSULB’s Office of Student Conduct and Ethical Development and another led by the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) to ensure no perceived conflict of interest occurred, since the student is a relative of an university police department employee, according to LBPD spokesman Brad Johnson.
University officials said no final disciplinary decisions have been made.
“In many of my previous messages I’ve shared with you my thoughts about privilege, prejudice, violence against women, discrimination, the need to celebrate the excellence of our multiple forms of diversity and intersectionalities, and zero tolerance for bullying,” Close Conoley stated. “This incident triggered emotions related to many of these issues, and our lack of campus communication caused some in our Beach Family to feel that their concerns as women of color were being minimized. That was never my intent, but I realize now that my silence was deafening.”
Close Conoley went on to state that even if an event is not considered a “crime,” the after effects can be traumatic for witnesses or even re-traumatize those who were not present but could have personally experienced violence.
The president also noted the importance of #BlacksOnCampus and #BlackLivesMatter campaigns and how they make everyone more watchful for evidence of bigotry on the campus.
People also took to Twitter to express their thoughts on the incident using the hashtag #BlackAtLB.
No email was sent out about this man or this whole situation. We found out through a social media post. #BlackatLB— bridgett (@bridgettmota) March 4, 2016
I just wanna know why so many people who attend my school had to find out about this thru social media & not from the school? #blackatlb— K.A.J ♑️ (@_killuhKam) March 3, 2016
Close Conoley stressed that no matter the color of someone’s skin, they are innocent until proven guilty and that officials are conducting a fair and impartial process. She also announced changes to potential threats.
“One concrete change I will implement is that we’ll do an additional assessment about “threat” following incidents reflecting tensions that exist on our campus and at the national level—that is, incidents involving race, gender, class, sexuality, political beliefs and the many other intersectionalities that characterize our wonderful campus community,” Close Conoley stated.
In a separate email sent out Friday morning to the CSULB community, Carmen Taylor, vice president of student affairs, assured students the importance of their safety.
“I want to take this opportunity to assure you that your safety, and the safety of the entire campus community, is our highest priority,” Taylor stated.
She also announced efforts to coordinate a series of constructive discussions relating to violence on campuses and matters surrounding racial inequality.
The dates of the discussions will be released at a later date. Students concerned about their safety are encouraged to contact the Dean of Students Office at 562.985.8670, Counseling and Psychological Services at 562.985.4001, Women’s and Gender Equity Center at 562.985.8576, Veteran Services at 562.985.5115, and Multicultural Affairs at 562.985.8150.
University officials first publicly acknowledged the incident on Thursday with an official statement.