I was surprised to receive President Levin’s e-mail Sunday night. Our usually reserved president was unusually forward, so much so that I initially dismissed the e-mail as a terrible prank. But it was real, and it sent the people around me into a panic. Facebook updates were unanimously uneasy, scared and grieving.
I did not need President Levin to tell me a body had been found. It was already on this newspaper’s Web site, and major networks had the story updated within an hour. What the president wrote was appropriate, but it simply was not enough. What we needed Sunday night was a leader to guide us, and President Levin’s leadership was sorely lacking. Here is what needed to be said to Yale:
“We are all shocked and saddened by this tragedy. I know that some of you may be scared, especially those of you who have only been at Yale for a few weeks. This is a disturbing event for us all, but please remember that New Haven has never been safer. No student should lose sleep about the safety of their residential college or classrooms. The YPD is working tirelessly to protect our students at all times, and the NHPD and FBI are working to bring those responsible for this crime to justice.
“We are a community of scholars and a society of friends. This is a time to unite around those bonds as we mourn and remember one of our own. It is not a time for fear, panic and hysteria. And as important as it is to reflect on a life lost, it is also important that we continue leading our normal lives. Yale is a safe place to live and study, and I am doing everything possible to protect it.
“Please watch out for yourselves and each other. Walk with a group when possible, and if you feel unsafe walking alone at night please call Yale Security for an escort to your destination. We will make it through this tragedy together.”
Instead of using this announcement as an opportunity to calm students’ fears, President Levin sent them into overdrive with his terse, matter-of-fact e-mail. (Was he expecting college masters to do the heavy emotional work later?) His e-mail was tone-deaf, amounting to nothing more than, “A woman’s body was found stuffed into the basement wall of a Yale building. Thought you’d like to know.”
The best leaders anticipate challenges and put themselves in a position to shape and direct them; others are content to sit on the sidelines merely reacting. On this issue, President Levin was happy to warm the bench. Who’s going to stop the panic now?
Jake McGuire is a senior in Pierson College.