Organization site - Summer 2001
Issue: 2/20/01

DeAnza College: Two days after infamy
By Beth Grobman Burrus
DeAnza College

Author's note: This is a creative non-fiction piece written after the bomb threat at DeAnza College last January. The telephone messages in this story were real, although altered slightly for clarity and anonymity. Names have been changed or omitted.

Voice Mail: The Prologue

My office is tiny and crowded, I suppose typical for a community college journalism instructor. My interior design is pseudo-intellectual hippie: piles of books, scads of papers, eclectic art and a display of anomalous gifts from international students. On the shelves and walls are bits of the collection I use to illustrate media history in classes: an 1851 Illustrated London News, a circa 1 890s stereoscope viewer, a 1935 copy of Modern Romances, a 1958 Elvis album, a 1969 Zap comic.

That's the fun stuff. There's the work equipment, too: the computer, VCR, CD player, TV monitor and, of course, a telephone. This story is about my telephone, two days after De Anza became famous, two days after it didn't blow up.

But first, I've got something to tell you. l don't like my telephone. I especially don't like its green Kryptonite colored light, which glares at me when I enter my office, telling me there's a message I probably don't want to hear. On a typical day, it tells me:

(1) There's a meeting I'm supposed to be at right now, and I'm not,

(2) A form I sent to the district office was filled out incorrectly, wasn't signed by the right administrator and disobeyed several obscure district policies,

(3) A colleague wants me to serve on yet another committee,

(4) A student cannot come to class because [Fill-in-the-blank as creatively as possible]

OK, now, back to my story.

On January 3O, De Anza was in the running for The Columbine Part II Award. Found in a student's home were over sixty bombs and a map of the campus indicating where the bombs were to be placed. The college was evacuated and made international news. FBI and police searched the campus and found no bombs. No one was hurt and a suspect was arrested. Still, the tenor of the campus changed. People became anxious, concerned, superstitious and paranoid. The media descended. Counselors descended. Students and staff speculated. And my telephone underwent a radical personality make-over.

Voice Mail: The Screenplay

Set: Desk with Macintosh computer, piles of books, spiral notebooks, memos and Post-its of various colors, pens that don't work, used paper coffee cups, and a phone with a brightly lit green light.

The camera zooms into a tight close up of the phone. A left hand picks up the receiver and moves it out of the frame. The index finger of the right hand rapidly presses a series of four buttons on the phone, pauses, then rapidly presses five more buttons.

Voice of a college administrator: Hi Beth, It's Lee ... I'm a little concerned that some people have expressed their worries about being interviewed or being asked questions by some La Voz student reporters and I wanted to talk to you about this. There's something that the students, reporters and editors should know. The only qualified people to provide office information about the event from the campus are the campus information officers in the Marketing and Communications Department. If the students, the reporters, want to find out any official events from the point of view of law enforcement, they should call the Sheriff's office. If you have any concerns, questions or comments about this message or any other, please stop by to see me or give me a phone call.

Thank you very much.

The right hand index finger rapidly presses two buttons on the phone.

Voice of a student newspaper editor: Beth, this is Arturo. You've probably already heard from the director of Campus Security, but well, I just wanted to let you know he's really mad at us and was going to contact you about it. Last night as Jessica and I were leaving La Voz around midnight, we noticed lights, computers and TVs on all over campus, so we grabbed the digital cameras to take pictures for a story on the electricity shortage. Then as we were walking around, we saw a van in the parking lot, and, well, with everything that's been happening, it seemed pretty suspicious. So we got in our car to go up to it to get its license number, but it sped off, so we followed it down the street. We reported it to the Sheriff's Office, and this morning Security became angry at us and told us we had no business doing that and we were just causing more trouble and they were going to report us to administration and to you. So I just wanted to let you know. If they call me, should I refuse to talk to them unless I have legal representation or you there? Anyway, just wanted to keep you updated, see you later.

The right hand index finger rapidly presses two buttons on the phone.

Voice of a community resident: Yes Ms. Grobman Burruss, This is Mrs. Wilson, I would like to, as someone interested in journalism, share some information with you about a student of De Anza who was partly responsible for the apprehension of the bombing suspect. It's not the individual who is receiving al1 the media press. I think that is something very important for De Anza to know about. So T decided to contact you and I hope you will reach me and discuss it, if you will call me back. I knew the school newspaper would be the best place to call.

The right hand index finger rapidly presses two buttons on the phone.

Voice of a reporter from a Bay Area TV station: Beth, this is Frank De Luna with Channel 3 calling, Channel 3 News. And the reason I'm calling is that I happened to talk to your president the other day, and I was just mentioning that I had done some teaching at the university level in broadcast journalism and I was interested in looking again for any kind of part time teaching openings that might be in the journalism field, primarily television, since that's my expertise. She told me to give you a call so that's what I'm doing. So I just wanted to give my name out there in case something should open up, some kind of lecturer, or any kind of part time thing, cause I'm still working, as you can surmise. Anyway it's Frank De Luna, D-E capital L-U-N-A. Look forward to talking with you.

The right hand index finger rapidly presses two buttons on the phone.

Voice of a reporter from a daily Bay Area newspaper: Hi Beth. This is Lynn calling again. You're probably in class right now, but I am interested in maybe talking to some of the student journalists there as far the bombing story goes. I spoke to Jessica on the phone briefly, earlier, and I know she would want to keep things specifically for her La Voz story, and I totally don't blame her. But we are actually open to the idea of crediting them in our paper if they have come up with anything that would be newsworthy for us. Clearly that's a decision that the students have to make, but I'd love to at least open the conversation and see where it goes. I've also spoken with Jessica earlier today and she said she'd get back to me, but she also sounded pretty frazzled so I thought I'd leave a message with you, just to be safe. Give me a ring back when you can. Thank you.

The right hand index finger rapidly presses two buttons on the phone.

Broadcast message from the College President's office: This is an update about what we are doing in response to the campus threat that was averted Tuesday evening. First, we will have a written update to all of you tomorrow morning, including a fact sheet with answers to the most frequently asked questions about the critical incident. Second, we have arranged for counseling sessions for De Anza students at two times today and one time tomorrow, two times each day next Monday through Thursday, and once on Friday. The sessions will be held in the counseling work room in the Administration Building. The schedule will be in the memo you will receive tomorrow morning. Third, we have arranged for two counselors from Project Concern to be onsite to meet with staff today, tomorrow and next week. Contact the dean of counseling to arrange to meet with one if you would like. Thank you very much and if you have further questions, let us know.

The right hand index finger rapidly presses two buttons on the phone.

Voice of a student: Hey Beth, it's Gordon. Can I miss mass comm class today? I have to run Craig home to get a template he did for the La Voz Web page so we can get this issue of the paper with the bombing stories up on our site. I didn't bring my CDs for the class presentation anyway, and wasn't prepared for it. See ya.

Voice Mail: The Conclusion

Yes! Finally, a student telling me he's skipping class. That, I can understand. A welcome prelude to a return to normalcy: classes, grading papers, committee meetings, revising curriculum, turning in the wrong forms to the wrong places at the wrong times, students skipping class. Yes, DeAnza's moment of horror, excitement, fear and fame will fade into media oblivion, and my telephone's Kryptonite-glowing light will, once again, signal the mundane.

- - - - - - - - - -

Beth Grohman Burruss is the chair of the Journalism Department at DeAnza College in Cupertino, California, and the adviser to the college newspaper, La Voz. When she's not working she's quilting. Her quilts can be seen at http:// quiltpage. htm