By Regina Kaza
Six months ago safety was an issue in GS120 when a student threatened to kill her evolution professor and classmates.
Jonatha Carr, 24, had a mental breakdown because of her schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. After asking evolution professor Stephen Kajiura the question, “How does evolution kill black people?” Carr started shouting and whipping her head back and forth when Kajiura tried to answer her question. She then stood up, pushed a student in the face and pushed linguistics professor Justin White, who then restrained Carr and took her outside.
Associate Dean of Students Terry Mena says looking back almost half a year later that FAU handled the situation according to policy. “What happened there was typical proper protocol response,” Mena said.
“We are bystanders and individuals that also need to get out of harms way.”
One student called 911, some left, others stayed and recorded it on their phones.
And it all ended up on YouTube with almost 500,000 views.
FAU suspended Carr who carried a 3.8 GPA and was a few credits shy of earning her biology degree. Then she was expelled. After Carr was pulled out of the classroom, she was Baker Acted, or charged with a nervous breakdown, for the third time in her life. FAU police then took her to South Country Mental Health Center. Weeks later Carr’s mother Joyce and sister Nicole told the UP that this isn’t the first time Carr had an outburst. She found out about her mental illness when she was 13 and according to Joyce and Nicole, mental disorders run in the family.
FAU student and UP photographer Ryan Murphy was in GS120 when Carr threatened her classmates’ lives. She pushed Murphy in the face and knocked his sunglasses off right before she pushed White and was taken out of the room as seen in the video.
Murphy says other students seemed worried for their safety although he wasn’t. His story, recounting that day, follows:
By Ryan Murphy
Remember that student who got hit in the face during class last spring?
That was me.
We were reviewing for our evolution midterm exam in GS 120. My professor Stephen Kajiura was taking questions from the students. I was diligently doodling in my notebook, halfway listening, and then, all of a sudden, someone asks, “How does evolution kill black people?”
I was sitting in the row behind her, about seven seats down.
I looked up to see who asked the question. This had to be better than my doodles. But I didn’t know who she was. I had never noticed her before.
And things just got awkward. This was far too deep of a topic to be discussing before lunch. And it was only the beginning.
The whole room went silent as Kajiura tried to answer her. We were only halfway through the semester, and I had done a lot of doodling in that time, but even I knew that evolution couldn’t do that.
She must not have been paying attention.
Kajiura told her that evolution doesn’t work that way. The girl shook her head and pounded the table. We were all freaked out. She didn’t seem to like the professor’s answer and told him she would ask it one more time.
One more turned into several more times. She seemed unsatisfied with his answers. Maybe worse.
At this point, students were getting upset that she was wasting our review time. They pulled out their cell phones to record the outburst.
I, on the other hand, returned to my notebook scribbles. She was getting too repetitive for me.
Kajiura continued reading from the powerpoint slides to try and drown her rant. Some students — the smart ones — left the room. Maybe they were bored like me or maybe they went outside for their safety.
If I had known what was coming, I would have left with them.
The crowd’s attitude went from shocked to annoyed in minutes. It seemed like most people just wanted to get back to the lecture.
But that’s when she decided to step things up. She threatened the professor — and then the students. It was at this point I thought about leaving, which is usually a good idea when someone threatens your life.
But like any good American, I wanted to see how this trainwreck would play out.
She started screaming about killing the professor, killing white people and killing students. This also would’ve been a great time to leave, because I fit two of these categories. I probably stayed because I didn’t feel I was in danger. But really, I was just curious how it would turn out.
She was standing at her seat and began moving down the row towards me, threatening us personally. The class was still wild with students leaving, filming and yelling.
Then it was my turn.
I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I doubt it was anything different than what she was saying before. I didn’t respond because I couldn’t think of anything witty to say. I feel a nice one-liner would have totally diffused the situation. She screamed and yelled in my face.
She called me a bitch and then yelled at me to “Take that shit off,” meaning my sunglasses, I guess.
I didn’t take that shit off.
So she slammed her palm into my forehead and knocked my shit off anyway.
Even at that point, I wasn’t worried for my safety.
Thankfully another professor had come into the room and told her to leave. She then moved toward him and went on to do some slap boxing. He removed her from the class and after a few minutes of “well, that was odd” reactions, we resumed the exam review. Weird, right.
Some people even came back to class and everything went back to normal.
Looking back, I think the students should have either been dismissed or left on their own. But I guess it’s human nature to want to stick around and videotape it for YouTube. Maybe that’s evolution.
What you should do:
If a student becomes violent in a classroom, call 911. “Don’t make that decision, just make the call,” FAU Police Chief Charles Lowe said. “The minute that it occurs and the thought pops in your head, should I call should I not, call us.”
Once someone has called 911, Lowe says to make sure you don’t argue with the person causing the outburst and not get into their personal space. “If someone is yelling and screaming, you know that what they want is someone to argue with them,” he said.
The professor is trained to try and defuse the situation and calm the student down. They learn this through guides made by Student Affairs and training they give faculty and staff.
Lowe says bystanders need to give the person time to calm down and realize they’re being inappropriate. “That anger or angst they will start to realize that they’re behaving in a way that they shouldn’t,” he said. “It can kind of slowly come down, sometimes it might not.”
If at any moment during an outburst you feel threatened, just leave the room. “I mean flat out get up and walk out of the class,” Lowe said. “If that’s what you need to do to be safe.”
How FAU handled it:
FAU has a Students and Crisis Intervention team that handles situations like the one that happened six months ago. This team creates guides on how to handle violent situations and students having psychological breakdowns.
Associate Dean of Students Terry Mena says Student Affairs shares publications and guides with faculty on their MyFAU accounts and has presented the information in meetings.
“On a number of occasions I’ve actually presented to faculty groups along with Dr. King,” Mena said. Since these FAU has had these guides and resources for over three years, Mena thinks everything was handled according to policy. “We can’t predict student behavior,” he said.
“Safety is a paramount responsibility of everyone involved in the university community including faculty staff and students.
Although there are policies on what to do when a student has a violent outburst, FAU Police Chief Charles Lowe says each case is different. “We have policies and procedures on how to deal with incidents,” Lowe said. “No two are exactly the same. Each one requires you to be flexible, adaptable, and make decisions.”
Students can look up the crisis guide at www.fau.edu/studentsindistress and are encouraged to ask questions.
“I’m sure they’re clearer to some people than others,” Lowe said. “But what we hope if folks that have questions would ask them.”