In response to the events that transpired in Paris last week, President Shirley Ann Jackson called for a Town Hall Meeting to be held this past Tuesday to discuss the effects the tragedy would have on the Rensselaer community.
Jackson welcomed the mixture of students and faculty, and led them in a moment of silence for those who lost their lives in the attack. She then began her formal speech, saying that while no harm had come directly to the RPI family, the Institute is a global community and is therefore still affected by the attack. Similar to her email, Jackson explained that she had been in communication with local, state, and federal law enforcement, and that there is no immediate threat to RPI and no cause for alarm. “We are one Rensselaer,” said Jackson.
On stage with her were special agents Anthony DeFino, John Story, and Mike Smicky of the FBI. Smicky spoke first, recapping the events that occurred over the weekend. Story described the attack as unusual for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, in that there tends to be less coordination and organization. What the FBI is most worried about are so called “lone wolves” and and their potential. These are individuals who, without the help of ISIL, plan an attack in the name of ISIL. Agent Story continued, listing some indicators that are often associated with lone wolves, including consumption of jihadist material, planning travel to suspicious countries, and contact with extremists. He emphasized that while these are not be-all and end-all, it is important for individuals to stay vigilant.
At this point, the microphone was open to students, faculty, and members of the community. The first person to speak was a Muslim student, who expressed his strong feelings against the ISIL. In a very emotional message, he explained that what ISIL is doing is not what Islam stands for. He quoted a line from the Quran, “whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind,” and said that he is “always keeping an eye out and wants all of us to be safe.” For his message, he received a standing ovation from the audience.
Another student asked for clarity of “increased security,” mentioned both in the email and during the meeting. Vice President of the Administration Claude Rounds answered, saying that while sharing the details would defeat the purpose, the reinforcement of procedures and protocols and increased security at hockey, football, and other large community events should be expected. An active shooter training video was also given to RPI by the FBI, which will soon be made available to the community. Rounds also mentioned that active shooter training classes and exercises would be made available early in the spring semester.
A member of the study abroad program asked about the effects on students planning to study abroad in Europe, Asia, and Africa in the coming semesters. Jackson said that a travel recommendation would soon be sent out by the Institute.
One faculty member spoke about the terrorist attacks in London on July 7, 2005, and explained how the British “stiff upper lip” helped Londoners and England as a whole get through the tragedy. He discouraged “feeding the fire,” and encouraged “doing nothing as long as it is the right kind of nothing.” The goal of terrorism is to incite fear, and that giving them attention and affecting our lifestyle is what they want. Jackson, while understanding of the statement, feels that she is personally responsible for the safety and security of the Rensselaer community, and while it is unfortunate, additional security measures are necessary.
A reporter from The Polytechnic asked Jackson the reason for calling a Town Hall Meeting over this event, rather than the others that have occurred this year, including the deadly attacks on college campuses, the downed Russian airliner, and the racist attacks in Charleston, SC. She pointed out that a meeting could have been called for any number of those events, becoming an all-too-common event. Jackson felt it was important to bring people together, and determine where and where not the dangers are. She also asked the leadership team to continue the conversation with the community.
This concluded the Town Hall Meeting. The full video of the event is available on RPI TV’s website, http://rpitv.org.