Campus safety

UM’s text alert gaffe makes the Twitterverse gasp

 

Get me rewrite: The University of Miami spent Thursday apologizing for a badly worded crime warning issued the night before.

mrvasquez@MiamiHerald.com

The University of Miami’s Emergency Notification Network exists to alert students and faculty of a safety threat — an oncoming hurricane, for example, or maybe an armed gunman.

But the text message that went out to the UM community Wednesday night contained a different sort of warning:

“Black male on campus,” UM proclaimed. “Wearing black and white tennis shoes, white shirt w/blk writing, black shorts.”

The message was related to a stolen laptop computer, but, in an apparent administrative glitch, UM’s text alert made no mention of an actual crime. That left some to wonder whether UM was suggesting that being a black man on campus was in and of itself somehow suspicious or wrong — otherwise, why would anyone need the urgent heads-up about it?

UM sent out a separate (but also incomplete) warning via Twitter that read like an empty template: “DESCRIPTION with WEAPON by LOCATION,” it stated.

The mistakes led to raised eyebrows — and plenty of jokes at UM’s expense — across the social media world.

“Why yes, UM, there are black guys on campus,” Emma Marzen posted on Twitter. “Good job ENN for forgetting to send the rest.”

Posted Alexander Norton: “how would you handle UM’s racist ENN report? #PRprobs #crisismanagement.”

By Thursday, UM was in full damage-control mode. University representatives weren’t talking to the media, and the school would only comment via written statements — statements that, presumably, were written quite carefully this time around.

“The initial ENN was both incomplete and insensitive and the University of Miami offers its sincere apologies,” the school wrote. “University leadership has already launched a full investigation of the incident, the ENN and University procedures.”

Nearly 1,100 black students attend UM, representing about 8 percent of the undergraduate student body and 7 percent of grad students. The university has long had an emergency notification system, though UM, like many other schools, expanded that system after 2007’s Virginia Tech shooting massacre.

The “black male” referenced in UM’s emergency warning turned out to be Del’Neco Streeter of Miami, who does not attend UM. Police say the 21-year-old Streeter stole an Apple MacBook Pro laptop computer from a dorm room earlier in the week, then attempted to sell the item back to its owner for $1,000.

The victim of the theft was able to place an electronic message on the screen of his laptop indicating he was willing to pay $1,000 for its return, police said. But when Streeter returned to campus to make the exchange, police were waiting. Following a foot chase — and the help of police K9 dogs — Streeter was eventually apprehended and arrested. Police are still searching for a second suspect they also believe was connected to the crime.

Miami Herald staff writers Barry Jackson and Michelle Kaufman contributed to this report.

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