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Last Wednesday, panic ensued at the University of Central Florida in Orlando after one man threw a white powder into the air during a class. Many dreaded that the substance could be anthrax, and pupils were forced to evacuate the building as police flooded the campus.
UCF students, including myself, received a series of text message alerts from the school to steer clear of Business Administration 1, an especially populated building at the university. Following the recent school shooting in Florida on Valentine’s Day, panic immediately ensued, with fears that a possible attack was underway.
As I walked across campus, I overheard conversations from fellow students ranging in topic from gun control to outright fear for their lives.
Being the millennial that I am, with possibly poor judgment at times, I decided to take my usual shortcut to a lecture by cutting through the building in question, in the midst of the madness. Officers charged the area, with numerous vehicles parked along the walkways, and concerned faces of colleagues were visible throughout the college.
As I entered my classroom, colleagues revealed that episode involved someone tossing a white powder onto others during a course. Many speculated that the substance was anthrax, while others believed it was cocaine.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the event was a prank by two new members of the fraternity Sigma Pi. Before the start of the course, one man wearing a Miami Heat jersey of basketball superstar LeBron James threw baby powder into the air, imitating the pre-game rituals of James tossing up chalk.
The student shouted that he was, “taking his talents to South Beach,” words similar to those of James during a 2012 trade deal. The other Sigma Pi fellow closely videotaped the incident.
The club allegedly required the stunt as an initiation into the group. After hours of UCF PD attempting to find the two, the men were both given written arrests and suspensions were granted to the fraternity. Neither had made attempts to contact law enforcement with information that the substance was harmless.
As bizarre and, depending on one’s outlook, humorous as the occurrence may have been, UCF PD released the following statement:
“We are not amused, especially in light of heightened concerns about safety. It should go without saying that pranks and stunts that create fear and panic are unacceptable.”
The apprehensions of law enforcement and students on that day exemplified the feelings held by many, in light of the numerous accounts of violence on school grounds over the years across the U.S.
Some students believe that UCF PD’s reaction was excessive, given that the Sigma Pi pair seemingly meant the joke harmlessly, while others view the actions of officers were justified, following the recent Florida high school shooting that resulted in the deaths of 17 innocent people.
In an interview with Liberty Nation’s Scott Cosenza, a police officer who was present at the scene of the Florida high school explained that law enforcement responses to threats have dramatically changed, particularly since Columbine.
Had the Sigma Pi associates immediately announced that the powder was not dangerous, unrest would have quickly ceased.
The immature behaviors from Sigma Pi are nothing short of disappointing. The incident struck fear into many students and their families that a possible life-threatening situation was underway. Hopefully, the pair learned from their mistakes and will begin sprouting into responsible young adults that universities are meant to foster.