My turn

Letter to the Editor


By Thomas J. Gustafson

In a letter to the editor last week, some students asserted that UVM “waited four days” to identify the student who allegedly engaged in explicitly racist and threatening language directed toward African American members of our community.

This assertion is incorrect and misleading.

UVM Police Services began an investigation of the incident immediately. The person who made the alleged threats was unknown to the student who overheard them. Thanks to its diligent investigative work, within three days, the police identified the alleged perpetrator. Following police consultation with the State’s Attorney Office, the individual was cited to appear in court on a disorderly conduct charge, the University promptly communicated these facts to the campus once they were shared by the police.

Throughout this disturbing situation, the University has worked diligently to strike a difficult balance between the desire to keep our community informed when information became available, and the importance of adhering to well established criminal justice system procedures among the police, the State’s Attorney Office, and the courts to maintain its integrity.

Unfortunately, this incident has resulted in some problematic misinformation that has been shared widely. Here are additional pertinent facts:

1) UVM Police Services found no information that there was an imminent threat. If there had been an imminent threat of harm to members of our community, additional steps and safeguards would have been initiated, including messages through the university’s emergency information system, instructions, and updates across all email, telephone, and social media.

2) The alleged threatening language did not include any mention of a gun, shooting, or any other weapons.

3) UVM Police investigates threats of violence and possible crimes; not use of offensive language.

4) During the first five days after the investigation began, the University sent four informational messages to the UVM community.

5) The University takes all threats of violence seriously and investigates and responds accordingly after credible evidence becomes available, regardless of the source or target of the alleged threat. In addition to Police Services, which conducts its investigations independently, UVM also has a well-established, experienced Emergency Operations Group and effective protocols to assess and respond to any incident when there is evidence of threats to the safety and security of our campus community.

Understandably, this incident has been very difficult for many members in our community, especially students, staff, and faculty who identify as African American and people of color. We share the frustration being voiced regarding use of words that target and demean individuals based on race. Expressions of racism and hatred are contrary to our shared values, as articulated in Our Common Ground. We unequivocally condemn acts of racism and hate.

Thomas J. Gustafson is vice president for university relations and administration at The University of Vermont.