LETTER TO THE EDITOR: UPD failed me, do not let them fail others

Corryn Brock

Starting in February, I became the target of dozens of hateful and/or threatening posts on the infamous app Yik Yak because of my work for the Daily Eastern News.

Posts like “her dad can’t save her from all the hate she gets at EIU,” “the track girls will jump [Corryn]” and “Corryn I hope [you’re] happy getting your ass beat for the rest of your time at EIU snitch ass” were frequent in the month leading up to Unofficial and the months following.

Always under the cover of anonymity that Yik Yak provides, I never knew who was posting the comments. This was not a concern of mine until the messages turned threatening, asking for a description of what I looked like and for my address.

Early in the process, I made contact with the University Police Department and made them aware of my concerns as things took a turn from people making rude (and admittedly sometimes funny) comments to threats.

At that time, I spoke with a sergeant late one night after seeing a post that concerned me and gave my first report. I shared with them messages that concerned me and was told there was no way to track who had posted it, later finding out that was not true after a quick Google search.

I gave an additional report to add some screenshots to my report a few weeks later but mostly monitored the app to make sure there was not an active threat against me or the staff at the News.

During that time, I also decided the staff would ride along with the Charleston Police Department and Charleston Fire Department to report on the annual tradition instead of our typical “on-the-ground” reporting style we had done during my freshman and sophomore years. I did this out of concern for the safety of my staff and myself, knowing that several anonymous people had deemed us, myself specifically, “public enemy number one” because we were doing our jobs as student journalists.

Throughout the day as I followed along with a CPD lieutenant to see what his brush with Unofficial looked like, as posts rolled in claiming I was the reason the parties were shut down and that I was directing the police. People then began asking for my description and where I lived and I grew more concerned.

The next day as we began designing the paper, posts continued and I eventually called the non-emergency police line to ask for the sergeant who met with me initially to meet with me in person to discuss the threats. They were busy so another sergeant contacted me in the meantime.

I had had a few encounters with the second sergeant before in a work context, none especially pleasant, and expected more of the same once they told me their name. And I got what I expected when I heard the sergeant on the police scanner saying it was not important enough for someone to meet with me in person.

In their report, they state they told me to delete the app to prevent the actions. You know, the anonymous app where no one could tell whether or not I was actively reading the posts, the same app I did not use to interact with the posters.

In the report, they also claimed that with “no suspect information and her choosing to be on the app as a ‘victim’ there would not be much that could be done.” Again, a five-minute Google search will give you the exact process law enforcement should follow to obtain information from Yik Yak, but, unfortunately, the sergeant chose to search the app itself where they found the app was “shut down in 2017 after a drop in users and controversy over cyberbullying and harassment” and that “during that time campuses across the country banned the app due to reports of racist messages and hate speech.”

Because of this search result, the sergeant determined “if Ms. Brock chooses voluntarily to be a part of racism and hate speech she is free to do so; however, her voluntary inclusion will not constitute a crime she is the victim of.”

In the meantime, the first sergeant called me to let me know I “needed to delete the app or unfollow it if [I] didn’t like what was being said.”

Both sergeants ominously noted that I told the first sergeant I would find another way to handle the situation, of course leaving out that I said I would seek help from the city police because the UPD sergeants were apparently incapable of understanding the app and the problem at hand, telling me that they would only be able to help if I were physically attacked.

That Monday, I called UPD Chief Marisol Gamboa to let her know about the situation. She made me feel better about the situation after she followed up with the sergeants and removed them from the case.

At that point, I felt confident something would be done and that I would actually be protected. Gamboa began the process of subpoenaing for the information of those making the threats and I was happy to see her treat the situation properly after dealing with the unprofessionalism of her sergeants.

Things moved slowly. In May, the results of the subpoena were returned and two students were identified via their phone numbers connected to the account. For some reason, the first sergeant was placed back on my case to make contact with the students. He supplied them with notices to appear in court and told the students they would be forwarding the incident to the Office of Student Accountability and Support.

The sergeant also contacted me to let me know one of the identified suspects was very apologetic when they made contact with them and to ask me if I still wanted to pursue criminal charges. I did.

Since then, nothing.

On Nov. 3, I made a Freedom of Information Act Request for my full, unredacted case file in an attempt to finally know the identity of the individuals of who were threatening me and be able to walk on campus in peace, knowing that I could avoid them if necessary. Then on Nov. 22, I received the file with the names of those who were threatening me redacted to protect their “private information.”

Since then, I have confirmed that no information about the situation was sent to the Office of Student Accountability and Support and subsequently nothing has moved forward on the university’s front. On the legal side of things, it appears that both the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Circuit Clerk’s office never received information to be able to prosecute the students.

I have now spoken with two administrators about the situation with the hope of shedding light on the mishandling of my case and what it could mean for other victims of crimes who go through UPD. How is UPD handling their cases? Or, like mine, are they simply not?

While I greatly appreciate the recent help I have received from admins, I still have concerns for future students.

I am graduating this month and will be free of this situation immediately afterward, but what about the News staff this coming Spring when they go about covering Unofficial 2023? Or a student who has been sexually assaulted? What about a student who was jumped on their way to their dorm?

What has to happen to a student for UPD to take action? How will they determine which Panthers are worthy of their attention and time, and which are not?

These questions and many others are still up in the air.

What I do know is that in two weeks I will graduate from Eastern Illinois University. I will be an alum with a lot of concerns for the students at this institution.

I will graduate proud of my four and a half years as a student at a university I love dearly. I will continue to encourage aspiring journalists to go to Eastern and enjoy the opportunities available to them, but now I will have to warn them being journalist may work against them if they are the victim of a crime on this campus.

I will go on to be proud of what I learned and accomplished during my time as an editor for the News and unfortunately have firsthand experience with the harassment the Pew Research Center estimates four in ten journalists face.

But most of all, I will be waiting anxiously to see how my alma mater moves forward from this disgusting display of incompetence and apathy by the police department.

Students deserve to be protected, so today I ask Eastern to do just that.

Protect our Panthers.

Corryn Brock is a senior journalism major. She can be reached at [email protected].