Content warning: Gender-based violence
October is a month of thrilling traditions.
Smiling pumpkins carved with love, horror movies viewed from a comfortable couch, coffee filled with the overwhelming sweetness of pumpkin spice.
Like Starbucks pumpkin cream cold brews, my excitement had been brewing long before the calendar pages turned. I even had a reminder set for Oct. 1 reminding myself to plan my Halloween costumes. We were deciding between hippies and princesses.
Yet, on a bright and warm Oct. 2, as my friends and I paraded through the fall wonderland of the Ann Arbor Farmers Market in Kerrytown, terror quickly began to messily weave its way through the Ann Arbor community.
First, it was in our sorority GroupMe. Then a friend’s private story. Then a club Slack channel. Eventually, a campus-wide email. Genuine, uncertain fear ran through every vein of our campus as the threat spread like a flaming, destructive wildfire.
“On October 4th, I’m going to the University of Michigan and blow away every single woman I see with an AR-15,” the now-deleted post read. “There is a violent pro-male revolution coming and you people better get ready for it.”
This message was originally posted on a Russian anonymous confession website called Sinn List, inaccessible to typical search engine users. The idea of the site was that people could profess their most twisted, disgusting opinions, and other users could approve or disapprove by responding with either a right side up or upside-down cross.
At the start of a month meant for the controlled, detached fearfulness of horror movies and haunted houses, we suddenly faced real, pervasive fear. As a reproductive rights rally marched through the streets of Ann Arbor, darkness began to spread around campus in the form of a misogynistic blogger professing intent to eradicate our female population.
By 5 p.m. on that gloomy Saturday, the FBI interviewed a resident of the home from which the threat was posted. Based on their investigation, they said, “there (was) nothing to indicate imminent harm to our community.”
On Sunday, University President Mark Schlissel announced that classes and activities would take place “as scheduled” on Monday, regardless of significant concerns and the creation of a petition with over 1,200 signatures. And while some professors did opt to make their Monday classes remote, others did not, with these decisions made on a professor-by-progressor basis.
With no campus-wide accommodations on that Monday, many women were given no choice but to place themselves in the uncomfortable position of walking around a campus painted with a potential death threat. Regardless of the University’s vague claim of mitigation, it seemed as if very little g was done to increase student safety as we were forced to go about our lives as planned. It seemed as if the University had decided that ensuring students took their chemistry exams as scheduled was more important than the comfort of the people who keep the campus alive.
If we have learned anything in the trauma of the last two years, it should be that student health, mental and physical, should come before the rigid scheduling and workload of college academics. As if the laughable wellness days and month-long Counseling and Psychological Services waitlists weren’t enough, the way the University handled this threat surely cemented to me that student well-being is not high enough on their list of priorities.
The day was relatively normal, aside from the fact that campus hadn’t felt emptier since the peak of the pandemic. After hours of internal debate, I decided to go to the Shapiro Undergraduate Library to get some work done. After about an hour, I noticed that I did not see a single other woman throughout the entirety of the somewhat crowded third floor.
As the afternoon came to a close, my friends and I sat in our living room and haphazardly wondered what the f*ck we were supposed to do next. Sure, the threat said there would be a shooting on Oct. 4. But what was stopping the poster, or anyone for that matter, from coming the day after? Or the day after that? What is the University doing to protect the women on their campus beyond the moments when they are forced to act?
In a nation with poorly limited gun control and relentless violence against women, we are forced to deal with these terrifying realities as we go about our daily lives. Fear is unlimited, constantly lurking far beyond the constraints of an annual October rewatch of “Friday the 13th.” Halloween may last a mere 24 hours, but real fear is not confined to an elaborate dress-up holiday.
In some ways, we have come to accept much of the impending danger we may face. It can be extremely beneficial to live effortlessly, refusing to allow the sheer risk of being alive to waste our lives away. But when situations like this arise, our very real fears waste away into passive ignorance. After Monday, Oct. 4, there was no more talk about the threat or its implications. The dreaded day had passed, and we were supposedly free to continue on with our lives as if nothing had ever happened. Because, technically, I guess, it didn’t.
Sadly, the next time we will have anything close to a major campus discussion about women’s safety will probably be the next time we receive a threat of this nature. We are all too good at ignoring societal ills until they are staring us dead in the eyes and we are no longer physically able to look away. It is a staring contest that we are almost always losing. The immediacy of our fear subsides, and issues no longer deemed “timely” fall to the wayside until they inevitably circle back to our focus once again.
Statement Contributor and Assistant News Editor Emily Blumberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.