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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: October 18, 2001
Latest Update: October 18, 2001

E-Mail Olivier Urbain, Soka University

Concern over Information Control

Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors: October 2001.
"Fair use" encouraged.

On Thursday, October 18, 2001, Christopher Hospedales, CSUDH, wrote:

Subject: eek!

jeanne: I was listening to you speak yesterday in class when something you said really alarmed me. You mentioned that it was quite possible that people working at our university might be wearing gas masks to protect themselves from anthrax. Well, after being alarmed I became really upset because the university doesn't tell us these things. Why did my professor have to hear third hand from another student? Shouldn't you have been informed of it being as you are an employee of the university, and shouldn't we been informed about it since we are the university's students? Aren't we the heart and soul of this university? It seems that the "higher powers" of this university don't really care about its employees' or its students' safety. Is there a term for this? Does this fall under structural violence? Does this involve a legal situation? Thanks Jeanne!

On Thursday, October 18, 2001, jeanne responded:

First of all, Chris, I'm sorry you were alarmed. The class was privy to an exchange with one of our classmates, in which she informed us of the gas masks, which had been provided to her office by a person whose name I did not recognize. The mere provision of the masks scared her badly, and I don't blame her. As I understood it in the very limited exchange we had in class, this could have been a private undertaking, not an administrative one.

But yes, we are all right to be alarmed. That was, after all, the purpose of those who are perpetrating these acts of terrorism. We have no precedents for dealing with such frightening potential crises. If any group of staff are going to don gas masks, lots of us are going to be uncomfortable. Some of us are going to very, very uncomfortable. We do need prior information and some preparation for dealing with these new stresses. I have contacted our Dean's Office, and notice of the situation has now been formally reported.

Yes, it is structurally violent when we fail to recognize that normative and generally functional expectations for procedure are no longer adequate, and that a new structural context requires adjustment to the normative expectations of all concerned.

No, it is not a legal situation until we have taken the appropriate steps to notify those in charge of administrative procedure that unanticipated situations (like gas masks) are having unintended consequences. An issue does not become a legal problem until non-legal methods of resolution have had an opportunity to solve the problem.

In this particular case, we should notice that there is no affirmative duty requiring anyone to let the administration know before they don gas masks. This is unprecedented. So the appropriate peacemaking response is to call our attention to the issue and to help us work out reasonable instructions in preparedness for crises related to the whole September 11 affair.

One of the most important ways to deal with the anxieties following September 11 is to talk them over. And it is especially good to talk them over with someone who will guide you towards clarifying the information available, and finding appropriate channels for asking for information. So you have followed an excellent course in dealing with your anxiety, Chris.

love and peace, jeanne