UT Police Department said the banner displaying the words “Tuition Pays For Bombs” that caused Monday afternoon’s evacuation of the Belo Center for New Media was not a credible bomb threat.
After UTPD met with Jay Bernhardt, dean of Communication Studies, they decided the banner was only political speech. Bernhardt said the faculty and students who fled the building mistook the banner’s meaning and evacuated without official instruction.
“Although there was no actual threat made to Moody College, we are aware that many people had very strong emotional reactions to the rumors surrounding the perceived threat, likely caused by the wording on the protest banner,” Bernhardt said in an email.
Advertising junior Grace Liu, who was in a 2 p.m. class in Belo when she heard about the banner, said the bomb threat rumors appeared credible because she had just been alerted of the campus stabbing by social media.
“We previously knew right before class started that the stabbing happened,” Liu said. “We all just kind of didn’t feel safe and were more likely to believe in this bomb threat, even though it wasn’t official.”
Advertising lecturer Chad Rea, who was teaching Liu and his other students during that time, said despite not receiving a message from the UT alert system, he told his students to exit the building because other classes were evacuating.
“Students were visibly panicking about what the heck was going on,” Rea said.
As Rea walked his class down Guadalupe Street away from the building, a police officer drove by and ordered everyone to leave.
“That time a police vehicle came speeding down Guadalupe … and pulled into the little entrance way behind Belo and (the officer) popped out, ‘Get out of here, get out of here,’” Rea said. “Students were panicking again and we walked all the way … to the In-N-Out Burger.”
The Moody College twitter posted at 3:06 p.m. that UTPD said the building was not under lockdown and there was no imminent threat.
Roopa Nagarajan, advertising and Plan II sophomore, saw the tweet after evacuating the building and said it lacked context and failed to inform students on whether their fears regarding the banner were legitimate.
“They needed to be cognizant of the way students were feeling,” Nagarajan said. “We didn’t feel like they were informing us properly … The distrust of UT started with the fact that it took them 30 minutes to get any information at all (after the campus stabbing).”
Even after UTPD announced the building was safe, Rea said he still did not receive any official communication about the bomb threat situation.
“It was the next day that I got an email that said that was not a bomb threat, it was, you know, basically a rumor,” Rea said. “It was really strange.”
Bernhardt said he is working with UT on improving official communication and responses for future incidents.
“We did our very best to get accurate information out to our students, faculty and staff via email and social media,” Bernhardt said. “We will work closely with the University administration to further improve our messaging responses in the future.”
UTPD said they are investigating who hung the banner on Moody Bridge.