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April 19, 2012

Bomb threats:

Community comes together

At last weekend’s annual spring carnival, students collected donations for police dogs and wrote thank-you cards for police officers.

At last weekend’s annual spring carnival, students collected donations for police dogs and wrote thank-you cards for police officers.

Camaraderie, esprit de corps, the spirit of Dunkirk. Call it what you will, the Pitt community has come together amid the ongoing stress of bomb threats that have forced evacuations of dozens of University buildings this academic term. The 100-plus threats — all hoaxes — have interrupted classes, disrupted work and emptied dormitories in the middle of the night.

Education faculty member Robert Gallagher, a former director of Pitt’s Counseling Center and former vice chancellor for Student Affairs, said, “Crises such as these, as debilitating and disturbing as they are, often bring out the best in those who are experiencing them.”

Traumatic events can be overwhelming and distressing. “At the same time this kind of crisis can draw out from many individuals coping skills they never believed they had,” he said.

“Fortunately, there are an abundance of quality administrators, faculty members, Student Affairs specialists, as well as an exceptional police department working to support students throughout this crisis and beyond. The students themselves have demonstrated unusual resilience in coping with this terrible situation and have done the University proud with their public support of all who are working on their behalf,” Gallagher said, adding that he believes the University’s response of institutional determination, togetherness, compassion and strength will raise its image regionally, nationally and internationally.


Solidarity and support for the police is evident.

Students have established a “We Support Pitt Police” Facebook group that quickly garnered more than 4,000 “likes.” They wrote messages on a huge thank-you banner in the William Pitt Union lobby that will be presented to the officers.

An offering of biscuits for Pitt’s bomb dog, Officer Riggs, and other K-9 responders soon developed into a collection to buy pet store gift cards for the dogs who have been working long hours with their handlers to clear University buildings.

A table set up at the Resident Student Association’s annual spring carnival last Friday included a donation jar and thank-you cards for police. Riggs, who attended the event with his handler Dave Nanz, was showered with affection as students stopped to offer their appreciation for the police efforts to keep them safe.


Care and concern for residence hall students who have been evacuated from their dorms at all hours has emerged.

More than 200 people —including faculty, staff, students and others — added their contact information to an informal “Pitt couch surfing” listing online, offering to shelter displaced students.

“It’s reassuring to see a University community react so well under conditions that are clearly trying,” said University Honors College Dean Edward Stricker, who recounted a firsthand example from his intro to neuroscience class last week.

After discussion concluded, one of his TAs posted her phone and email information, offering students a place to stay if they were evacuated. “I’ll find room for you,” she said. A second TA, who lives off campus, offered students a ride as well as a place to stay. “Call and I’ll come get you,” he said. The first countered, “But I have cookies!”

Stricker said, “I’m not surprised by this sort of concern — older people for younger people, older students for younger students. This is a community. This is a city where people are decent to one another,” adding that Pittsburghers’ neighborliness and kindness toward one another are unparalleled.

“This community — the campus as well as the city — are kind to one another and it is showing up, it’s perfusing the campus,” he said.

“Not that I feel grateful for bomb threats to show this side of this, but what’s coming out of it are very good things,” he said.

“We have quality students — not just in terms of GPA, but also quality of thought and quality of character.”


For some, responding to students’ needs simply is part of their job. Student Affairs staff have mobilized, forming rotations of response teams that assist when residence hall students are evacuated. Likewise, administrators are taking shifts “on call” to be present during nighttime evacuations.

Kathy Humphrey, vice provost and dean of students, said, “Our staff in Student Affairs is here to help students in any way we can to have the best possible experience.  So if we can bring just a little bit of comfort to our students during an evacuation when their lives are disrupted, that’s what we are here to do.”

The above-and-beyond efforts have not gone unnoticed, however.

“Our resident directors have been superb as the first responders, and our senior administrators, including the chancellor and provost and deans, have been there, day and night, helping students. The Panther Central and Housing staffs have been tremendous, and we are so appreciative of the services that Sodexo has provided,” she said.

Eli Shorak, assistant vice chancellor for Business, likewise commended the efforts of all those who have worked to ensure students are safe and comfortable during the late-night evacuations of the dorms.

“There are so many people from so many areas that are helping during these challenging times … all hands on deck doing whatever is needed,” he said.

Humphrey said, “The entire University community has pulled together and done their part so that we can carry on.

“There has been a remarkable University-wide team effort to help our students cope with the residence hall evacuations and the logistics of helping our students to complete their academic work. I am extremely grateful for the way in which everybody has worked together.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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