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‘Something could happen to us’: WSU students frustrated by school’s response to slayings near neighboring UI

Nov. 17, 2022 Updated Fri., Nov. 18, 2022 at 6:59 p.m.

The statue Cougar Pride is seen on Nov. 2, 2014, near Martin Stadium in Pullman. Some Washington State University students have expressed concern with the university's response to killings at the University of Idaho.  (TYLER TJOMSLAND/The Spokesman-Review)
The statue Cougar Pride is seen on Nov. 2, 2014, near Martin Stadium in Pullman. Some Washington State University students have expressed concern with the university's response to killings at the University of Idaho. (TYLER TJOMSLAND/The Spokesman-Review)
By Nick Gibson For The Spokesman-Review

The killings of four University of Idaho students on Sunday have left many students at neighboring Washington State University worried for their safety – and frustrated with the WSU administration’s response.

Following the deaths of Madison Mogen, 21; Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Ethan Chapin, 20, many students don’t feel safe as the attacker remains at large. The Latah County coroner on Thursday ruled that the four deaths were homicides by stabbing, and the killer used some type of large knife.

With fall break scheduled to start for both schools after classes end on Friday, many students have opted to head home early. Some students who remain are frustrated with what they feel is a lack of communication and flexibility from university officials as the Palouse community continues to grapple with the tragedy.

Associated Students of Washington State University president Jacob Martinez questioned why the university in Pullman took so long to tell students about the attack. ASWSU released a statement expressing condolences and offering support to students on the student government’s social media pages nearly an entire day before Chancellor Elizabeth Chilton addressed the attack in a campuswide email Monday evening.

“We wanted to put something out as fast as we could and make sure that students had these resources,” Martinez said. “We want to make sure students are safe and that they know we are here to support them. Like a lot of people, I was hoping to hear from the school as fast as possible, but they took a bit.”

Martinez said he has heard from several students who are concerned for their safety and looking for information . After assuring the community that there was no threat to the public in the days following the attack, Moscow Police Chief James Fry retracted that claim in a news conference Wednesday. Although police believe it was a targeted attack, Fry said “the reality is, there still is a person out there who committed four very horrible, horrible crimes.”

“I know a lot of students are worried,” Martinez said. “They put out something saying that it was a targeted attack and that we shouldn’t be worried, but that seems wrong. All I can say is, I hope that students take as many safety precautions as necessary.”

The WSU Police Department announced in a statement Wednesday that they were implementing new safety precautions, including increased patrols around campus, following Fry’s remarks. In the statement, WSU Police Chief Gary Jenkins also advised students to take safety precautions like traveling in groups, being aware of one’s surroundings at all times and locking doors.

“We want the Pullman community to know we’re here,” Jenkins said. “Be alert; if you see something suspicious, call us. We would rather respond to something that turns out to be nothing.”

Jenkins is the only one of WSU’s top officials to speak with ASWSU this week about the attack, according to Martinez. He said he thought the university would have reached out to them on how to best support the student body. When asked why other administration members have not reached out, WSU spokesman Phil Weiler said he was unsure what role the student government would play in this situation and advised Martinez to reach out to the administration with any concerns.

WSU senior Clany Wauran is one of the many female students in Pullman worried for their safety. She said she was frustrated that students were expected to carry on as normal after hearing about the attack, and highlighted how tightknit the two college communities less than 10 miles apart are.

Wauran is a student employee at the university’s Womens Center and said several female students have visited the center this week seeking support. Many students have reported feeling fearful, anxious and unable to focus on school work.

“A lot of my friends are scared just because they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, something could happen to us,” Wauran said. “I live with five other girls in a house, just like the girls who were attacked. I feel like there’s this darkness just hanging over the area right now.”

After canceling classes Monday, UI officials have encouraged students to leave early if they need to. Meanwhile, just 9 miles down the road, WSU has made no public remarks offering similar accommodations to students as of Thursday evening. Both Wauran and Martinez said they thought WSU should have followed UI’s lead in supporting their students and caring for their well-being.

“You can just feel this general sense of unease and anxiety everywhere you go,” Wauran said. “This week has been really weird trying to go to class when it’s all anyone is thinking or talking about.”

Weiler said although it has not been included in a public statement, professors were instructed in a campuswide email this week that they should “give grace” to students during this difficult time. Weiler said the university provides accommodations to students undergoing hardship year round and most students are aware of those policies through class syllabi. Weiler said it can take a while to put together a statement due to technical challenges like ensuring the statement is accessible across devices and platforms.

Canceling classes was never part of the discussion for university officials, Weiler said, because the attack “didn’t have the same impact to Washington State University that it did to the University of Idaho.”

“It’s an issue that was very close by and was, I think, really disturbing for everybody in the region,” Weiler said. “But it wasn’t something that we thought we needed to cancel class for.”

Weiler encouraged students to work directly with their professors if they are having difficulties attending classes or meeting deadlines, and reminded students and staff to use the resources available, like the WSU Police Cadet Corps’ free escort service for those walking to and from campus.

Wauran thinks the Pullman community will feel on edge for a while. She said Gen Z has come of age in a time where tragedies occur frequently, which is leading to lasting impacts on their mental health. Wauran expects students to be dealing with the aftermath of the attack for years to come.

“It just feels like this stuff is never going to end, and I just feel like it never is going to get any better,” Wauran said. “I guess the general feeling here is hopelessness. I think the break couldn’t have come at a better time.”

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