On Wednesday, January 18, 2018, an otherwise quiet January term was lit up when former student Tnuza Hassan started eight fires in seven buildings across campus. Hassan was arrested and removed from campus within hours of the St. Paul Fire Department arriving on campus. No injuries were reported. The Department of Public Safety emblazoned emails, social media posts, and text messages, and the LiveSafe app with updates for the St. Kate’s community every 15 minutes. While the situation was handled quickly and efficiently, some students were left feeling burnt out with the administration in the wake of the second campus-wide emergency of the academic year.
Students confirmed an improvement in communication since the active shooter incident in September. In fact, most of the concerns students shared with The Wheel revolved around the responses from the university and community, rather than the incident itself. An anonymous source told The Wheel, “It’s pretty normal for St. Kate’s to start on fire. Fires are common. We thought it was just another fun little fire.” She shared memories of burnt popcorn and other microwave mishaps from each semester she has lived in a residence hall. Fires on campus are fairly common, and not just kitchen accidents. Previous issues of The Wheel report other arson attempts on campus. Arsons in residence halls in 1983 and 2001 led to increased security staff on campus and the installation of security cameras in residence halls, respectively.
While students felt safe during and immediately following the incident, many felt uneasy about its potential longer-term ramifications. Every student that spoke to The Wheel shared concerns specifically regarding President Roloff’s response. On January 20, President Roloff sent her traditional Friday email to St. Kate’s students, faculty, and staff. The email, whose subject line read Sadness and Gratitude, included links to local press coverage of Hassan’s arrest as well as a line reading “I met with some of our Muslim students to let them know I am here for them as well as all of our students.” This email was quickly followed up by a response from student Nastehakeyf Sheikhomar beginning, “I am saddened and deeply disappointed to see this email”, Sheikhomar went on to share concerns about Becky’s decision to include quotes from prosecutors of Hassan’s alleged statements.
There was also significant concern regarding Becky’s claim to have “met with some of our Muslim students”. Sheikhomar directly addressed this by writing, “The means in which you have used to be able to say that you have “talked” with Muslim students is questionable. You entered a closed meeting that was an important interview without notice and regard to students time… you weren’t there for those students, you were there for yourself”.
The meeting in question was a closed Student Senate interview. According to Muna Scekomar, Electronic Media Studies Major, ‘18, who is a member of Senate Leadership Team and was co-conducting the interview, “She really interrupted. Becky just walked in and sat down. She walked in and sat down.” President Roloff reportedly saw several Muslim students that she knew, and proceeded to derail their meeting. Furthermore, after discussing the opinions on the arson incident that President Roloff asked for, Scekomar was left with the impression that there would be no Friday email that week. Scekomar said, “I understand her intentions behind [sending the email] because she understands the Islamophobia that exists in the world, but the way she came across before that email, people had never made the connection between Tnuza and her religion. She made that connection for people”. Teighlor Mcgee, English and Women’s Studies Major, ‘19, also took issue with President Roloff’s email. Mcgee said, “That message was very inappropriate. That should not have been spread through any official University correspondence… We don’t want to risk students making the false equalization that [Hassan] got [the idea to start fires on campus] through the Muslim faith. According to a follow-up email from President Roloff, “My intent was not to perpetuate a stereotype or interrupt a meeting”. Our anonymous source said, “It sounds like Becky may have just done this for show, and it’s hard to think about, but it’s not out of character.” President Roloff declined our request for interview.
Students also had apprehensions about the possibility of Islamophobic backlash on campus. Mcgee recalled a troubling Facebook post about Hassan published by Minnesota Terror Watch that had been shared by St. Kate’s students. Mcgee, who works with Campus Ministry as a peer minister said, “I recognize my privilege as a Christian person. It’s about making sure I use my privilege to have those conversations about racial profiling and Islamophobia with singling out Muslim students or students of color. I have heard many concerns from students about racial profiling.” Mcgee spoke about her positive experience at St. Kate’s, saying, “I have not experienced otherness. Other people of color feel that to a certain degree. There are obviously microaggressions but people aren’t outwardly hateful”. Mcgee remains hopeful that “we do not allow that level of hatred to generate on campus” in the new semester. Our anonymous source said, “[A friend] sent me an article about Jihad in America and I was like ‘and so it begins’… [Hassan]’s [alleged] statements are completely, 100% correct. We have done unspeakable things overseas. Our culture loves a violent way to solve problems… I know she did bad but lots of white Christian people do bad every day without being condemned to eternal damnation in the hands of the U.S. government.”
The investigation is ongoing in the St. Paul Police Department. The administration will continue to provide updates at stkates.edu as more information becomes available. Student support is available via the Multicultural and International Programs and Services (MIPS) Office.