Friday, May 25, 2007

Timely Update

Communications from university policy makers to the campus community provide interesting examples of digital rhetoric from respected communicators. Since they usually model proper institutional discourse, these e-mails potentially could be useful samples for students to imitate, in order to learn the rules for electronic discourse from those at the top. In a culture of what The New York Times calls "Flame first, Think Later" that produces some spectacularly bad student e-mails, of which this is my favorite example, some pedagogical intervention certainly seems to be needed.

Unfortunately, in the post Virginia Tech semiotic environment, sometimes the implied narratives in a given message in the important genre of risk communication can be so enigmatic as to suggest only mysteries that require that the reader supply the key details.

For example, first we received this message:

A double homicide occurred near UC Irvine on the corner of University Drive and Ridgeline Drive on May 22, 2007. This case is currently under investigation by the Anaheim Police Department in relation to an arson/kidnap case that has touched a member of the UC Irvine community. Appropriate security measures are being taken.

The Anaheim Police Department requests that anyone with information about this case call (714) 765-1997.

We ask you to please be aware of your surroundings when on campus and report any suspicious activity to the UC Irvine Police Department immediately at (949) 824-5223, or 911. Personal safety information can be found at

Then we received this one, with still more passive voice and elliptical presentation:

More information is now available regarding the recent double homicide near UC Irvine, about which I sent you a zotmail yesterday evening.

As reported by the local news, the daughter of the victim is a UC Irvine student. Arrangements have been made by the University to assist her and others affected during this very difficult time.

Anaheim Police Detectives now have provided the following suspect descriptions and request that anyone with information about this case call (714) 765-1997:

Suspect #1: Male black with bushy hair, wearing a hooded sweatshirt.
Suspect #2: Unknown driver of suspect vehicle.
Suspect Vehicle: light-colored mini van.

Without key details, readers are given a kind of roman à clef to solve rather than presented with authoritative messages about campus safety. The lacuna may partly be explained by an assumed knowledge of coverage in the print and broadcast media.

Update: Facebook is already memorializing the murdered Orange Coast College student Karishma Dhanak in sites like R.I.P. Karishma Dhanak, U Will Be Missed. Photo sharing among members of the grieving Hindu student community seems to be a particularly important aspect of their remembrance. It appears that the victim's MySpace page has already been deleted.

More Updates: On the 1st of June we received more details on the case although it still lacked many of the specifics about the crime being reported in the media. The message also included the following explanation of the risk communication policy of the campus.

We have received several inquiries about the purpose of timely warnings and the campus weapons policy. To clarify, campus policy requires that a timely warning be issued whenever a violent crime occurs on or adjacent to the campus and the UC Irvine Police Department is of the opinion that the safety of the campus community may be at-risk.

Another Update: Now that a suspect has been accused, much of the coverage in the Los Angeles Times article "Ex-boyfriend charged with OC double slaying" is strangely devoted to the Facebook pages of both the suspect in the crime and to one of the surviving family members.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a UCI student, I found it very odd that the campus was so anxious to be associated with this horrible crime - particularly given the criticism leveled @ UC in the past, for Clery Act reporting failures. Notice how UC's "warning" stated that "a homicide occurred" near the campus. None of the other media reported stated that the homicide occured in Irvine - only that two bodies had been found. How many crimes have occurred on campus that were not noted in a similar "timely warning"?

12:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Timely update: page three of UCI's "New University" paper informs us that "Bomb Threat Attempts Midterm Delay" last Friday, May 25. Apparently the UCI police investigated an email bomb threat which was sent at approximately 2 p.m. - threatening to target the Social Sci. Lecture Hall. No "Timely Warning" email was sent for this event. Perhaps they wanted to make certain the threat was real before they bothered the rest of us with the news.

4:22 PM  

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