Czerwiec’s 911 call justified

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ROTC should have flyers out letting everyone know about their upcoming exercises. Photo courtesy of usnews.com 

A letter to the Grand Forks Herald by UND associate professor Heidi Czerwiec has gained a lot of notoriety lately. In the letter, Czerwiec explains that she hid under her desk and called 911 after seeing two men dressed in camouflage carrying what she believed to be loaded firearms on campus. Several minutes after being reassured that the two men she had seen were more than likely ROTC cadets training in the quad, Czerwiec was called by a campus police officer and scolded for her report.

Her letter was shared by a multitude of news organizations, and a brief glimpse of the comments section on their websites showed that many people passed Czerwiec off as “an oversensitive liberal whose ‘safe zone’ got invaded.”

A Facebook page titled “The People v. Heidi Czerwiec” was even created, with the intent to get the associate professor fired for her actions.

Before everyone judges Czerwiec on her reaction to seeing the ROTC cadets on campus, we should take a step back to think about the current climate we are living in.

In 2016, school shootings are a real threat. Terrorist attacks are a real threat. With ISIS and other militant groups taking credit for several mass killings across the globe over the past several months, the fear of an attack is an ever-present one. With that in mind, was Czerwiec’s response to seeing men in military uniforms, carrying what appeared to be rifles on campus really that much of an overreaction?

One of the common criticisms Czerwiec receives is her reply to being told ROTC will continue to practice in the quad, stating, “…I guess I will be calling 911 for the next couple of weeks — and I will. Every time.”

At face value this does sound excessive and potentially illegal, based on North Dakota’s laws regarding the report of a false crime. In her letter to the Grand Forks Herald, it does sound as though she is willing to call the police every time she sees ROTC training on campus. However, that is not the case.

In a statement to WDAZ-TV, Czerwiec explains her previous quote meant, “…I was saying that any time I see something suspicious that is not obviously part of a drill, I will call it in. At the university, we are told, ‘if you see something, say something.’ I am doing my job.”

With this clarification, Czerwiec’s quote makes much more practical sense.

Another common criticism is that students and faculty were sent an email that ROTC will be practicing military exercises in the quad throughout the spring semester, but Czerwiec neglected read said email.

I can honestly say I did not see the email either, but after a quick check of my inbox there it was. To alleviate this situation, the university has decided to send out notifications while ROTC is drilling. Hopefully, this will remove some of the anxiety surrounding their exercises.

While it is important that Czerwiec’s side of the story be shared, that is not to say ROTC is in the wrong.

In her letter, Czerwiec states, “It’s already highly inappropriate to conduct unnecessary military maneuvers in the middle of the quad.”

Calling ROTC’s exercises unnecessary is disrespectful to their storied organization. ROTC has been a part of this campus for almost a century, teaching young men and women important skills that will stick with them for the rest of their lives. Members of ROTC have the right to use the quad as much as anyone else.

In another statement to WDAZ, Czerweic states, “There is no reason in this day and age that you need to do these exercises on the middle of the quad. Do them somewhere else.”

I believe this solution is a little misguided. The members of ROTC are students with schedules of their own, and I do not believe forcing them to drill at some new arbitrary location is the correct solution. If they were moved somewhere else on campus or even off campus, would that really solve the issue of unknowing civilians feeling unsafe?

The university’s decision to send out notifications during ROTC’s exercises would be a great step toward alleviating some of the tension that it can create. This could be supplemented with flyers around campus posted with ROTC’s drilling times.

It all comes down to communication. Before every home hockey game, the Army ROTC Color Guard team presents the flag. During the ceremony, two cadets are holding rifles. It is safe to say there are no worries or undue stress surrounding this event, because everyone is expecting the rifles to be present in the ceremony.

If we could reach the same level of solidarity we feel with the color guard at hockey games as we do with ROTC cadets training on campus, the UND community will become a safer and happier place.

Brendan McCabe is a copy editor for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]

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