by Peter Webb
RETROSPECTIVE REGARDING 2012 UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH BOMB THREATS
Two years ago, I lived in the Lothrop dorm at Pitt for my second consecutive year. Because of the bomb threats, we were evacuated twice to the Peterson Events Center, both times in the early morning. The evacuation crew provided snacks, cots, and t-shirts.
The threats lasted for about three months, starting at about this time and lasting through finals. I had a good time during this period. Many of my classes were canceled, several tests and even finals were moved online, and with everyone I saw, I had something to talk about. Every day at Pitt I am surrounded with people I will never meet. With the bomb threats, I had already met everyone. I remember people talking in the Market Central stairwell about security, I remember discussing without fear the issue with perfect strangers, I remember everyone having an opinion about what was going on, what the university should do, whether or not we were in danger, I remember a shared excitement between students and faculty alike.
The whole thing was so abstract. I think it was understood that there were no bombs; but because of security, every threat had to be responded to. At least after the first few threats, I think everyone understood that a farce was taking place, the university was following a kind of protocol that would end with the capture of some kid who would receive at least a decade in jail.
Everyone was considering the $50,000 reward for information leading to the culprit, with varying degrees of seriousness. I remember some authority telling me how no friendship was strong enough to stand up to $50,000. In a kind of disassociated way, I began finding ways to blame myself for the threats. I began worrying that I was going to make a threat.
The “threateners” wrote in and asked that the reward be taken down. Pitt chose not to negotiate with terrorists. Later, when the same offer is was made again, Pitt decided to take down the reward. This is how the threats stopped. Pitt also investigated a former teaching fellow who is crazy, a trans couple that had a previous grievance with Pitt Johnstown, and Adam Busby, a Scottish separatist, who I believe was indicted.
Relying on the idea that any threat is practical at any time was Pitt’s vulnerability to the bomb threats. This, I believe, is a universal policy among institutions. I guess I’m not sure why there are not more of incidents like these, especially in an age where it is possible to make threats which are almost impossible to track.
SENSE OF COMMUNITY IN WAKE OF A DISASTER
I saw the threats as a disaster-like scenario without the disaster itself. No student was harmed, although many were rudely awoken, and many may have missed academic opportunities. To my eye, there was a sense of excitement; it was like a series of days of heavy snow, wherein everyone must adjust their life to some external force, and in that adjustment, something of the human arises.
PITT FOOTS THE BILL; AND HOW I FEEL ABOUT THIS
Having to pay for everything, and possibly losing credibility, Pitt essentially was at its knees. Normally I feel a halfhearted existential anger towards Pitt, because I so often see it as manipulative, so during this period I was content for this to be the case. I felt was not my responsibility to care, I felt like a unit in a factory machine which had a wedge thrown in. I feel guilt or a sense of danger for admitting this.
I don’t advocate for more threats; this is important to say, I think, even for this blog. I think I do sometimes want a sort of guilt free way out of the whole edifice of class commitments and huge sums of money which constitutes my perspective of Pitt. But I think this desire is the result of a naivete as regards my position to Pitt. It is perhaps easy to view college without a proper understanding of the weight or complexity of the forces involved; maybe the threats were a chance to see some particular piece of internal logic, descriptive of the whole.
What I’m saying: normally what I see of Pitt is very clad in the colors that the institution has chosen for it: academic excellence, athletic spirit, cheerfulness. During the threats, Pitt in my eyes seemed to partially drop this cladding, and beneath it was visible a complex and maybe morally ambiguous construction, something very strange and led by rules not familiar to the personal realm.
PETER WEBB is an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh. His major is English Poetry Writing and he is the head editor of Collision Magazine. He can be contacted at email@example.com and maintains a poetry blog.