The University of St. Thomas is grappling with how to handle bomb threats after a third incident this year shut down four buildings on its main campus in St. Paul Tuesday morning, heightening anxiety throughout the campus.
After about a two-hour sweep, St. Thomas public safety officials gave the all-clear. Nothing suspicious was found. At 9:30 a.m., a few minutes before officials lifted the threat, the Anderson Student Center building was reopened. Other classes resumed after 1 p.m. Students will make up missed classes at a later date, school officials said.
“It is frightening any time the safety of our students, faculty and staff is threatened,” St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan said in a statement. “And it’s frustrating because this is the third bomb threat our university has received since April.”
Dan Meuwissen, director of public safety for the private Catholic university, said he can’t share details about the threats because it’s still an active investigation.
St. Thomas officials will send any information they have collected to the city’s police department, the FBI and other intelligence agencies that are already investigating other threats the school received, Meuwissen said.
Last month, a bomb threat closed the John R. Roach Center for the Liberal Arts, on the northwest corner of Summit and Cleveland avenues. In April, two buildings off Summit Avenue were evacuated after a bomb threat was phoned in. Campus buildings were evacuated and classes resumed the next day.
Nothing suspicious was found in either case.
“Every incident that comes in we have to evaluate individually and on its own merits,” Meuwissen said in a phone interview Tuesday. “We obviously take these [threats] very seriously.”
Support for students
Vice President for Student Affairs Karen Lange said St. Thomas places a high priority on community-building, with events before and during the school year.
Different departments, she said, are working to help connect students to each other and to staff to build a school community that’s resilient to such threats.
“We know that there’s a lot of stressors in the world that we live in right now,” Lange said. “Some of our students are scared, but we are so fortunate that we have so many resources on our campus.”
Colleges and schools both locally and across the nation are confronting campus threats, some of which have been deemed unfounded by law enforcement. The phenomenon has forced school officials to forge strong relationships among themselves and with law enforcement to navigate the complexities of conducting campuswide evacuations.
In Minnesota, private and public universities are sharing resources and expertise. It’s still unclear whether school officials have seen an uptick. But in response to the recent campus threats, St. Thomas officials and other college leaders have galvanized efforts and are sharing tips on how to address such incidents and find the people behind it.
“It is a learning curve,” Meuwissen said. “[But] there’s a heightened urgency for us to be out and available in viewing this.”
When the threat was phoned in about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, students and staff were evacuated from four buildings — the Facilities and Design Center, John Roach Center, Anderson Student Center and O’Shaughnessy Science Hall — that were targeted in the threats. Counselors and staff from campus ministry were dispatched to tend to anyone who needed support.
A series of tweets and e-mails were sent out to notify the St. Thomas community, including students’ parents.
Kevyn Perkins woke up in his dorm room to an e-mail that warned about the threat.
The sophomore sought friends and information at the campus’ diversity center.
“We are pretty numb to it,” he said about the back-to-back threats. “But we can’t let our guards down because if we do, something bad might actually happen.”