By: Mia Bencivenga
Being a student of the University of Pittsburgh, you would think that I would know more about the bomb threat investigation that has made national news rather than someone who was not at all affiliated with the University.
Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.
When seeking information about these unsettling threats, I turn to online news sites in order to get information about the investigation. The University seldom updates us on the progress of the investigation directly. The only information we are privy to is when the bomb threats happen and where so we know to evacuate. We also receive the occasional new email about the measures that the University is taking to deal with the problem and to, as they say, ensure our safety.
However, there are a few things I do know about the bomb threats that some might not be privy too, just from personal experience. First of all, despite their frequency, each and every one I find are equally frightening. Nothing makes you appreciate the novel 1984 more than waking up to automated voices that are giving you orders followed by a shrill siren that makes you feel as though big brother is about to blow up your dorm.
Second of all, evacuation is disorganized--which I cannot say is wholly University’s fault. After all, the students are all adults and thus tend to scatter after they’ve been evacuated; however, it would be a good move on their part to have some sort of plan in place for what the hell you are supposed to do after you’ve been kicked out of your dormitory at five thirty in the morning.
Lastly, chancellor Nordenberg and other high ranking people within the University of Pittsburgh hierarchy wake up whenever a dorm is evacuated to keep the students company and reinforce, I suppose, that we’re all in this together. I personally appreciated this because it was nice to know that they weren’t sleeping cozily in their beds while I’m trekking through nighttime Oakland in my multi-colored cartoon penguin pajamas.
I suppose the other point they are trying to make is this; when we suffer, they suffer. I can’t argue with that. They are getting so much shit from parents right now it’s unreal. Kids are dropping out, transferring—it’s a mess. In addition, they have to pay for all of these shenanigans, as well. And let me tell you, it ain’t cheap to call the police and have bomb sniffing dogs search building after building, day after day.
Also, it’s important to note that they aren’t the ones who are heading the investigation. They can only control the University’s response to it. The FBI and the police are the ones conducting the investigation into who is committing these bomb threats. The University, and the upper ranking officers, are more or less like us—ignorant, or at the very least, not permitted to release what little information they are privy to.
Or so that is the impression, we the students, are given.
The other downside to this investigation is the numerous minor, but nonetheless important, variations on every story. It’s impossible to know exactly what is going on.
Perhaps no story is more controversial right now in the University of Pittsburgh community than that of the transgender couple that is currently under investigation by the FBI in relation to the bomb threats.
They are Seamus Johnston, 22 and Katherine Ann McCloskey, 56. The reason they are under investigation seems to be a strange one—Johnston, who was born a female, has had a previous dispute with the University. He was expelled for indecent exposure; apparently, Johnston was using the men’s locker room to change when the University’s policy states that transgender persons are to use the locker room that matches the gender on their birth certificate.
Johnston was an honors student at University of Pittsburgh’s Johnstown branch campus. He claims he is being investigated because his recent dispute with the University gives him a motive.
Some are outraged and feel as though the FBI and University are painting the couple as scapegoats. Not only do they have a current dispute with the University, but they are an extremely unorthodox couple even by today’s standards. Not only do they have a large age difference, 34 years, but they also are both transgender. Their very relationship makes people feel negatively towards them—so it’s not a stretch to say that these two are marked with suspicion before they are even allowed to defend themselves.
Also, Johnston is seeking to be reinstated as a student of the University in addition to fighting the criminal charges filed against him. In addition, the couple is supposedly in talks to file a discrimination suit against the University and will meet with the Pittsburgh Human Relations Commission on Monday to further their aims. If they were going to seek legal action in the form of retaliation the first place, what on earth is their motive for calling in these bomb threats? And if Johnston was a student, and wants to be a student of the University, why would he try harm other students? It doesn’t seem to make much sense.
Many people are crying foul. Some people think, including Johnston, that this is the University’s way of retaliating against him. Not only is the University and the FBI targeting transgender people, but also, Johnston and his wife Katherine are board members of the head of the Social Democrats USA. They didn’t have anything to do with anything! The University and FBI just want to punish them for being transgender socialists!
On the other side, however, some people are approaching the couple with genuine suspicion. After all, they would not voluntarily submit their computers, and those responsible for the threats have been making them through sending emails. And some would say that they do have a reason, a very good reason, for being very angry with Pitt. Especially Johnston who feels as though he was grievously wronged—and after all, just because he says something doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because he claims he has friends here doesn’t mean he does; he may be feigning concern for the student body—but that’s it. He will probably say anything to make it seem as though he and his wife are innocent. They are painting themselves as victims when in reality they could be much more formidable than anyone seems to be getting them credit for.
We don’t know what Johnston studied at Pitt Johnston—who is to say that he wasn’t a computer science major or who would have advanced knowledge of how to send emails without a trace like the ones the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has been receiving?
I’m sure we could all find nuggets of what seems like truth or facts in both of these arguments. But in reality, we once again know very little. We don’t even know if it was the University that gave the FBI their names or if there is another reason behind their being subpoenaed. In fact,we don’t really know the FBI’s reasoning for subpoenaing them at all. Who knows? They might have gotten an anonymous tip or noticed suspicious activity.
We also don’t know what other people are currently being subpoenaed by the FBI at this very moment. It seems that this could all be a product of speculation and publicity due to the controversial nature of this couple and what they are associated with.
Not only that, but more importantly, the University is still actively receiving bomb threats, and I still go to bed every night worried about being startled awake by sirens and friends pounding at my door to get out of the building.
Everyone is eager for there to be an end to this. It would be so nice if they could just arrest someone and then it would all go away. But unfortunately, that does not seem to be in our near future.
By blowing up stories, misconstruing them, and trying to make even more controversy out of a bad situation is not helping anyone. It certainly isn’t doing anything for anyone’s peace of mind.
If Johnston and his wife are innocent, I say we let them be and wish them the best. Let’s not jump to conclusion that the University or the FBI is doing this to purposely hurt them because big organizations hate transgender socialists.
And if they are guilty, let us not assume that it is because they are transgender socialists, but rather because they are people with poor moral character that has nothing to do with their gender identity nor their political party.
It’s a two way street; judge people based on the content of their character rather than what’s going on between their legs. Don’t treat them as victims or villains just because of one of two facts about them.
Instead, we really need to learn to treat them as people. And as people, aren't they innocent until proven guilty?
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