Flames of the Torch

Safety is essential, especially in a post-9/11, fear-filled world.

It is rare that anyone, especially in New York, will complain about too much safety. In fact, it is often the case that they are complaining about a lack of security measures being taken, at airports, on trains, and throughout the city. At St. John’s, however, the opposite has occurred.

Following the April 3 lecture hosted by the Muslim Students’ Association, students were left wondering why there had been an excess of security. The event, “Becoming Closer to Allah,” was attended by at most 70 people, the majority of whom were St. John’s students. Yet Public Safety deemed it necessary to use metal detectors on all who entered Marillac Auditorium for the discussion.

University policy states that such devices are to be implemented only if there are 250 or more people expected, or if they have received information that would warrant heightened security. The MSA event boasted neither. Their official paperwork cited an anticipated 100 attendees and the speaker was a local religious scholar. Still, students were left to wait out in the cold while Public Safety first rounded up officers and equipment and then scanned all attendees before allowing them to enter.

It is absurd that the event would attract such attention, especially when past events, with more prominent speakers, had little security presence. Spike Lee, Cornel West, Senator Bill Bradley, and Harvard professor Steven Pinker all spoke before crowds of at least 500 people, and not a single audience member was required to walk through magnetometers or be searched with a metal-detecting wand.

West, one of the most controversial, should have warranted more security. Just prior to the event, West had to be moved to Carnesecca Arena (then Alumni Hall) because the original location, Marillac Auditorium, was too small to hold the expected audience. Surely such a change would warrant the use of metal detectors, as Marillac Auditorium can hold more than 300 people. In fact, had the event remained in its original location, it would have required additional security, because 300 is clearly greater than 250.

Additionally, Thomas Lawrence, vice president of Public Safety, stated that the paperwork presented by MSA cited an expected turnout of 300 students. Yet when The Torch obtained copies of the documents from Student Life, the reservation form as well as a subsequent e-mail from MSA’s liaison, Nashia Whittenburg, both dated March 19, clearly stated that only 100 students were expected to attend. It seems, then, that Lawrence, who was unable to produce his own supporting documentation, was lying. At the very least, he was ill informed by his colleagues, who dealt more closely with the event.

This is just the latest in a long line of situations in which the University seems to be straying from expected behavior. There is no point in having a policy in place if it is not going to be adhered to. The University expects students to follow every rule to the letter, yet they are allowed to pick and choose what rules they will follow and when? Perhaps they should at least pretend to practice what they preach.