Concerning the Shooting Threat [Against Women] at California State University, Fresno

CSU Fresno Gun Violence Threat

Language Surrounding Reports of Fresno State Shooting Threat Makes Targets Invisible

By now news has widely circulated that a student at California State University, Fresno, later identified as Robert Malik Pryor, posted a threat of gun violence at Fresno State on the pseudo-anonymous social media service “Yik Yak.” My response is motivated for two reasons: on the one hand, I feel compelled to share contexts from the perspective of the classroom as the day unfolded, and on the more serious other hand, I want to draw attention to rather dangerous problems concerning the language that has been used to narrate this event, for the language both denigrates the spirit of the university and the women who were the target of this threat.

The threat was posted a little before noon on Monday, November 2, 2015. Shortly after my 1:00PM class began, a couple of my students brought the post to my attention. I asked them to forward screenshots of the post to my email so I could forward them to the campus police department with a follow-up phone call (a call that went unanswered as their lines were likely inundated with traffic). During this process, I noticed emails from several of my students from my next class at 2:00PM concerning the threat. I immediately invited any of my students who were not feeling safe to excuse themselves from class and sent a similar notice to my students from my 2:00PM class. About half of the students from my 1:00PM class decided to leave, some commenting that they were receiving texts from their mothers saying “Please come home now”; I remained to facilitate our learning plan for students who chose to stay. Only one student came to my 2:00PM class. Incidentally, a day later, an email was sent from “University Communications” stating that “Authority to grant Paid Administrative Leave is limited to the campus President” and that “…as such, non-exempt employees who left campus in advance of their normal work hours will be allowed to ‘make up’ any lost work time over the remaining work days in November.” As an aside, it is great to know that non-exempt employees who left campus because of terrorist threats have the opportunity to make up for what would otherwise be considered lost wages by the university administration. Meanwhile, as the email also reveals, “exempt” employees are not subject to the same rules and face no potential loss in wages nor were they invited or required to “make up” work time. I invite you, dear readers, to make of that what you will.

Although I was unable to attend in person the press conference held by University Police Chief David Huerta and Provost Lynnette Zelezny, I did watch several of the streams of the conference via Periscope. During Chief Huerta’s Q&A session, I was struck by how interested the reporters were in digging out whether the student was an athlete and where on campus the student had been arrested. Seeing as though it was later revealed that the student was an athlete and was arrested in the Duncan Building which is located near the football stadium, it wouldn’t surprise me that some of these reporters had leads that they were trying to confirm. Still, I wondered why this detail was so important to them. Then it hit me.

Journalists are trained to tell the most interesting story—the one that will keep people watching and listening—and the most interesting story is the fall from grace of an athlete (particularly the fall of a football player). As of the time of this posting, the headline on The Fresno Bee’s article covering this story resonates with my assertion as it reads “Fresno State football player arrested, linked to threat on social media of campus gunfire.” The story that gets more clicks is not about a student from California State University, Fresno: it’s about a Fresno State football player. In an early version of the same article, the word student was not even mentioned until the 9th paragraph where Jim Guy was summarizing pieces of Chief Huerta’s statement. Even after revision and extension, Guy only uses the word “student” when summarizing statements from university officials; he himself continues to refer to the suspect as a “football player.” In a follow-up article, Rory Appleton of The Fresno Bee also neglects to refer to Pryor as a student, and one of the article’s highlights at the top of the page read “Suspect Christian Malik Pryor, a Fresno State football player, posted bail.”

This emphasis on “Fresno State football player” is problematic in my view because it continues to present to the public that the university is really about the Fresno State Bulldogs and not the students of California State University, Fresno which incidentally perpetuates a value-system that is often at academic and budgetary odds with universities around the country; it’s also not in the best interests of the students (including the student-athletes): The Fresno Bee reported last year that Fresno State football coach Tim DeRuyter’s five year contract is worth $7.5 million, roughly 18 times that which fully tenured professors earn at CSU Fresno according to the CSU Fresno Salary & Schedule Charts; and, on the other side of the same coin, it usurps the labor of student athletes—for which they are not compensated in the first place—in order to generate more clicks and ad revenue for agencies that are not even a part of the university while making invisible the targets of this threat—the student population.

The language used to edit the events of the day also skirt around what is most at stake with this situation where yet another confused young man with a sense of sexual entitlement served death threats to women who rejected him. Through its editing processes, the media has made it difficult to make this connection. Jim Guy (and/or his editor(s)) engages in such practices, for example, when he directly quotes the entire post except for the most threatening bit at the end:

The post read in part (original spelling retained): ‘the time is here. @3PM I will release my frustrations. Tired of dirty looks, get rejected, nd being talked about bc how I dress. My choice of weapon M4 Carbine…’ (Guy).

CSU Fresno Gun Violence ThreatHere’s the part he left out: “My choice of weapon M4 Carbine (sic) and I will take a headshot at a hot blonde (emphasis added).” Now I understand one motive in leaving the latter part of the post out is to save the Bee’s audience from what might be considered grotesque, and the “hot blonde” aspect coming from a mixed-race individual introduces racial tensions that the Bee is clearly trying to avoid; however, the grotesqueness is what’s most at stake in this situation! The Fresno Bee even went so far as to characterize Pryor’s [symbolic] action as “not a pure act of terrorism” which was later revised to “not a deadly plan,” presumably because officials did not find an M4 Carbine with which he had threatened to “headshot [a] hot blonde”; how that language could not be a “deadly plan” or a “pure act of terrorism” in the eyes of media outlets like The Fresno Bee further illustrates how hard they work to screen out the misogyny of the situation. I submit that “terrorism”—the use of violence or intimidation through action or symbolic action for some gain—is the more accurate word to describe the entirety of Pryor’s action. Here I am reminded of Stony Brook Professor Michael S. Kimmel’s 2005 essay, “Gender, Class, and Terrorism,” where he points out that the most infamous terrorists are culturally, socially, and/or sexually emasculated men (who can only be emasculated because of their perceived failure to live up to the cultural scripts of masculinity that are forced upon them). To be clear, I am not equating Pryor to the likes of Timothy McVeigh or Mohammed Atta, but the cultural structures that authenticate violent action in the minds of these men are the same, and this is a conversation we must continue having else we risk continuing to stand on the sidelines while watching this pattern repeat.

In my view, it is a moral and ethical outrage that the media so water-down a death threat toward women for merely rejecting a man. This editing process clumsily and mistakenly focuses the conversation on the fall of a football player rather than what’s really at stake. Value systems that make men feel a sense of entitlement toward women’s bodies that then authenticates violence toward women is an ongoing problem, and this should be the stasis of this conversation; unfortunately, the media’s editing processes make this conversation a difficult one to have because, according to them, it’s not even a part of the conversation. In this edited conversation, the victims are made invisible. This was just a “young man’s horrible mistake” (poor guy) and, since no one was head-shot, it was not even a “pure act of terrorism” anyway.

Disclaimer: As with all content on The Snow of the Universe, what’s expressed herein are strictly my own personal views and analyses which are in no way intended to reflect those of any of my employers or their related agencies or entities.

Down and Dirty with Higher One

Fresno State Financial Aid Shenanigans

This is a continuation from my original ranting blog about the poorly formed email (both in terms of grammar and HTML markup) where I also called shenanigans concerning the direction of my university and its policy with handling student financial aid, scholarships, and loans. I had been anxiously awaiting to receive my HigherOne Card in the mail, which I will now refer to the University designated title of “Fresno State Choice Card” (FSCC). It came on Saturday, and you can bet that the first thing on my agenda for that afternoon was to activate that card so I could be done with it. I wasn’t at all surprised when things did not turn out to be as “convenient” as the original email (along with its duplicates and the following emails [which were usually duplicated as well]) would have me believe. Following, you will see a series of screenshots from the web-based activation/validation/authentication process for the FSCC. Take a moment to flip through them, by all means–take special note of #2 and #5.

  1. The first part of the process was simple enough: enter the number from the card. That’s easy and…convenient…I guess.
  2. Now there are a few more text boxes to fill out. I’m familiar with the security codes from my regular credit cards, so that’s easy enough. Now I need the last five [numbers] of my student ID plus my date of birth in MMDD format. Here I had to assume that it wasn’t wanting me to do a mathematical operation, as in the sum of the integers from the last five digits of my student ID and my DOB in MMDD format. I figured concatenation was the most obvious choice from these less-than-clear instructions, and even though I was frustrated when either algorithm didn’t work, I wasn’t surprised.
  3. Try several more times just to make sure I was not mis-keying my data.
  4. Give up for now. My account will probably get locked out if I try to authenticate and fail too many times in a row.
  5. Sunday rolls around. Let’s try again. Same deal, same instructions, same result.
  6. Rant on Facebook. Other students and friends are having the exact same issues. One student says that a family member has figured out the magic solution. Instead of entering the last five of your student ID plus your DOB in MMDD format, do the reverse! DOB in MMDD plus last 5 of SID. Okay, I’ll try that.
  7. See screenshot #3.
  8. Call their 24/7 customer service hotline to get account un-suspended.
  9. Regular business hours are Monday through Friday, so if your problem is beyond the simplistic automated system, you have to wait until Monday.
  10. FML!
  11. Monday morning rolls around. Call customer service. “We are experiencing a higher volume of calls than normal, so your assistance may be delayed. Current wait time is approximately 10 minutes.” You don’t say…
  12. Try to re-authenticate just in case there was an auto-reset on suspended accounts after x hours of inactivity. See screenshot #5, and note the changed verbiage in the instructions. This time the authenticator is asking for the numbers in the “correct” order.
  13. Make breakfast.
  14. 20 minutes later, real person answers. “Hello and thank you for calling HigherOne. Can I have your card number please?”
  15. Stop making breakfast. Thank you, mom, for pulling the eggs I was frying off of the stove while I ran back to get my card!
  16. Account un-suspended. I authenticated to the next step while I was still on the phone with customer service just to make sure. “Have a nice day.” -_-
  17. Continue authentication process. Recall that this convenient process started on Saturday morning, and it’s now Monday morning.
  18. Make [your] choice. How do I want my money disbursed? Like there’s even a choice: direct deposit to my regular bank, of course! I’ve heard all about your transaction fees, inactive account fees, sneeze on your card fees, breathe fees. No, thank you.
  19. Oh, look, they’ve been smart enough to default me to the second choice, “Deposit to another account.” See screenshot #6. How did they know I was going to choose this option in advance? Oh, they must have seen that I had direct deposit to Bank of America set up from before. Wait. WAIT…
  20. Why the hell does this third party institution have my personal banking information already, including my account number? I never gave permission to have that information shared!
  21. Rage.
  22. Continue. Confirm selection to deposit to another account. SMH at flowchart. See screenshot #7. Note the verbiage. “Receive your refunds in 2-3 business days*. (Flow chart). 2-3 Business Days
    *Initial refund may take 8 business days.”
  23. What the hell does any of that really mean? 2-3 business, 8 business days, “refunds,” “initial refund”… since when are scholarships, loans, and financial aid considered “refunds,” anyway?
  24. Start drafting an angry blog.

Now that you’re all caught up, I have a few questions. In fact, I imagine a lot of students are asking themselves (and should be asking people in addition to themselves) the same questions; in fact, I know of at least one student, Phing Lee, who has written a blog on the same subject. I hope he won’t be the only one.

  • Why did this change occur to begin with? What was wrong with the old system where the campus financial aid department handled funds? I suspect it’s saving the campus money in some way or another; I suspect that students won’t see the benefits from those savings if there are any (unless “benefits” come in the form of increased tuition rates, parking fees, and more and more limitations on the amount of units in which one may enroll coupled by a very limited availability of classes); and I also suspect that certain individuals are receiving incentives from HigherOne for outsourcing financial aid to them.
  • Did those who decided to implement HigherOne into our financial aid system take note that HigherOne is currently in a class-action lawsuit because of their questionable fees? More info in that here, along with this excerpt from Brent Hunsberger’s article written for the Oregonian:

    …other colleges have not done their due diligence on the card. In fact, they keep signing agreements with Higher One to disburse student financial aid via its card, apparently oblivious to its burdensome and questionable fees. Among those institutions in the Northwest: Oregon Institute of Technology, Lane Community College, Mt. Hood Community College and Western Washington University. They also don’t know how PSU (site of student protests 8 years ago over the card) and SOU negotiated the fee out of their contracts.

  • What about shenanigans like this? Am I going to have to pay 1% of my balance to HigherOne to have my money deposited elsewhere?
  • What was the decision-making process behind this change? Were any of the governing bodies on campus consulted? Did ASI vote on this or give a recommendation?
  • So there is pretty good documentation out there regarding all of the potential fees associated with just having a HigherOne account, let alone using it, but I want to know about interest rates. What sort of interest would I see accrue toward my account for keeping my money there? (LOL. Yeah, right.) So if the students aren’t benefiting from any potential interest income, who is?
  • Why did Fresno State share my personal banking information with HigherOne without my permission?

If you weren’t angry about all of this before you read this blog–and I’m sorry–but I hope you are now. None of this has been “convenient,” and I want answers.