Editorial Notebook

RPI needs to improve its response to on-campus threats

An individual by the name of Tyriek McGraw was arrested for criminal trespass on campus on February 9. Posters bearing Public Safety’s logo were placed around on campus, warning students about the individual. About a week later, Resident Assistants started posting notices in dorms Discord and Webex groupchats saying:

“Regarding the notices put up by Public Safety, it’s been brought to my attention that the individual in question was found hiding in the showers in a freshman dorm on at least 2 separate occasions. Further, this individual has been involved in similar trespassing incidents at other area schools including U-Albany and Saint Rose. RA staff were informed that this individual posed ‘no risk to our campus community,’ but after hearing above information I feel it is important to make you aware of the situation to the fullest extent possible. Please be extremely careful regarding who you let into the dorm. I urge you not to let in anyone you don’t know and be careful about people following you into buildings. Please do your part to help keep everyone safe.”

Typically when there is an occurrence on campus where the students and staff should be wary of some danger, Rensselaer sends out RPI Alerts via text message and email. Suspicious activity has been a cause for concern for prior alerts. Why did RPI not send one out for McGraw? It was publicized by the posters hung up by Public Safety that this man was a suspicious individual. The only way of knowing this, besides the notice from RAs, was through these posters. No RPI Alert was sent out to notify the community. Even though he was deemed not to be a threat, it is still very unsettling to hear that he was found hiding in the showers in freshman dorms, on top of the fact that he has done this before.

POSTER PLACED around campus. Dering Bowers

The day after McGraw's arrest, Hailey Becker ’25 sent a message to the Blitman Commons dorm Webex saying, “Y’all be very careful. At 5:30 AM this morning myself and a team member saw someone who looked like this in the blitman parking lot. He tried to wave me down in my car to stop but I got nervous and proceeded to go practice. Definitely be watching whose behind you while coming inside and especially people hanging out in the parking lot waiting for an opportunity to get inside. Apparently he got caught sleeping in the Union.” Even after being arrested and issued a trespass warning, McGraw still was seen around campus. Why would he want to come back to campus? Does he have a motive to do something? Clearly, the previous warnings were not enough to steer McGraw away from campus. Why was he not deemed a threat after this sighting?

A student’s parent called Public Safety to ensure their child was safe and the situation was being handled. I received the following statement from the student, who asked to remain anonymous:

“After learning of this situation, I contacted my parent who was furious, (rightfully so), and they contacted Pub Safe themself with the intention of learning how the school was planning to protect its students from another similar situation occurring. She was met with inconsistent responses, such as officers claiming they didn’t know what she was talking about, and others saying they were aware of “gentlemen” trying to enter the dorms. They also provided inconsistent information about a poster that had been found mainly around the Freshman 5 dorms & Commons. They claimed they had not postered about the incident at all, while the RAs were told by [Student Living and Learning] that Pub Safe had put up posters in that area. Even the postering itself was problematic, as it specified the individual’s name, and was only hung up in one part of campus that is not frequented by a majority of RPI students. The poster singling out one individual by name detracts from the overall concern, as it causes one to focus just on spotting this specific person, rather than raising general awareness regarding who you let into any private buildings...It’s scary to realize that the school showed more vigilance and concern over the robbery that occurred in the Mueller Center vs. a 26 year old man entering a freshman bathroom and hiding there. To me, and many other students and parents, one is clearly more threatening to students’ safety than the other.”

Vice President of Administration Ernie Katzwinkel gave the following comment to the Polytechnic:

"In February 2023, an individual trespassed on campus and asked students for money. This individual visited multiple gathering spots on campus. On February 9, 2023, he tailgated into a residence hall and was reported to Public Safety (DPS). DPS took immediate action and contacted the Troy Police Department. Once the suspect was apprehended and arrested, he was given a written ‘persona non grata’ (PNG) prohibiting him from coming onto the campus in the future. There were no reports to DPS that the suspect had ever physically touched or threatened any individual. For the safety of the students, once he was apprehended and identified, DPS shared his identity via posters that were hung at eye level in residence halls and on Union doors to help students recognize him in case he tried to follow someone into a building. There have been no subsequent reports of him returning to campus and the notices have been removed."

RPI needs to work on communication overall. More specifically, Public Safety needs to do a better job of communicating internally and with the Rensselaer community in order to keep them safe. For this case, RPI should have taken a more active role in letting the community know about McGraw by utilizing safety alerts. Posters around campus are not enough. This could mean RPI redefines what it constitutes as a threat for a Public Safety response, but in any case, situations like this need to be acted on with more caution since the consequences could have been much worse.

Katzwinkel also gave some tips to the Polytechnic regarding safety in similar matters.

  • This individual was not reported to Public Safety until February 9, even though he was spotted on campus earlier. If you encounter someone on campus who you know or suspect does not belong on campus, notify Public Safety immediately.
  • If someone is attempting to enter a secured building, do not let them in unless they have an RPI ID. 
  • Always keep your RPI ID secure. If it is missing, notify the Campus Card Office at 518-276-6670.