Two individuals dressed in all-black and masks scared a class in Giltner Hall while carrying out a prank last Tuesday, causing a student to call the police and the professor to lock down the lecture hall.
MSU Department of Police and Public Safety officers who responded to the call left the building without telling the professor and students they were safe, according to an email the professor of the class sent to students.
The State News has chosen not to name the professor.
“As it turns out, we were not in danger but, unfortunately, we did not know that," the email from Nov. 1 said. “We experienced some fear that was unnecessary, for about 20-30 minutes as these suited men kept going back and forth from the hall toward our classroom doors. We didn’t know if there was intent to harm us or what the purpose might be of their behavior and their black, full bodysuits that hid their identities.”
A video recorded by a student in the lecture hall during the incident, which was posted on the student’s social media and authorized for viewing by The State News, shows the professor on speaker phone with a male voice while peering out the window of one of the two doors in the lecture hall.
Police responded to a call at approximately 2 p.m. after two individuals “startled the class,” according to MSU Department of Police and Public Safety spokesperson Dana Whyte.
Whyte also said there was a third individual who was in on the prank and recording the incident.
“We immediately responded and determined the two individuals were students in the class performing a ‘Halloween prank’ and were being filmed by a third student in the room,” Whyte said in a text message to The State News on Nov. 2.
MSU has since backtracked on this claim. It remains unknown if the individuals who carried out the prank were affiliated with MSU.
On Nov. 8, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and Dean of Undergraduate Studies Mark Largent told The State News “I do not believe they were students enrolled in that particular class, and I’m not at all confident that they were MSU students."
Whyte also said on Nov. 8 that she was unable to confirm whether the individuals were students because no police report was made.
Deputy spokesperson Dan Olsen said the university cannot disclose any information about disciplinary actions being taken against the individuals who carried out the prank due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. FERPA is a law that regulates access to student educational records by public entities. Only MSU students would be covered by FERPA protections in this situation.
Whyte said the officers assumed the individuals were students "due to the initial assessment of the situation and the professor's interactions with the individuals."
“At this point, officers left and the matter was left with the professor since no crime occurred," Whyte said.
In the professor's email to the students, they said the officers did not tell them there was no danger, which was “a big fail.”
“It was also unfortunate that the police officers who came never spoke to me directly once they arrived,” the email said. “Having determined that there was no crime committed, they left, failing to enter the classroom and assure all of you - and me! - that we were safe.”
Whyte said, “officers determined there was no threat and communicated this with the professor before leaving,” in a text message to The State News. According to Whyte, “during the duration of the call, our officers were never asked to enter the room.”
Largent said the professor didn't invite the officers to come into the classroom, and police officers don’t go into a space without being invited because it’s not “standard protocol.” MSUDPPS is sensitive to the fact that individuals have varying levels of comfort with the presence of police officers, Largent said.
He said MSU police’s Chief of Police Chris Rozman has discussed with his officers that they could have solicited an invitation to come into the classroom to assure the class they were safe.
In a video recorded by a student during the aftermath of the incident, the professor is seen speaking to one of the individuals who carried out the prank.
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“I don’t know how you could think it was funny to do what you did to me,” the professor said. “I don’t. I really don’t.”
“Especially with what happened to us in February, to approach our classroom door, fully covered in black from head to toe,” the professor said in reference to the Feb. 13 campus mass shooting.
The individual can be seen nodding their head.
Following the incident, the professor said the university provided “a lot of support” for them and their students.
In the email sent to students, the professor said someone would be coming to the class during the class period following the day of the incident to allow students to discuss thoughts and feelings on what happened.
“Resources will be made available to any and all of you who feel you need additional avenues through which you can share your feelings and be supported and reassured,” the professor's email said. “I think this is needful for some of you (less for others) and will allow a safe process for any thoughts or feelings students might have about what happened.”
Olsen acknowledged that some students’ mental health may have been impacted by the incident, considering the recency of the Feb. 13 campus shooting.
“We certainly know that no individual's healing process is the same, and so, individuals may be impacted differently by different types of things that they may witness throughout their lifetime,” Olsen said.
“Certainly, we want to make sure that if they need resources, they receive those, and that’s the action that the university took in coordinating with the faculty member to make sure that support measures were provided,” Olsen said.
Largent said the professor brought one of the individuals who carried out the prank into the lecture hall and made them apologize to the class.
"The instructor handled it with remarkable skill and grace," Largent said.
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