For the past two weeks, different Finnish media outlets have intensely covered the threats made against the University of Helsinki and especially the Faculty of Arts. The faculty organized a discussion at Metsätalo on the evening of June 2nd, the aim of which was to inform students, faculty members and staff about the events and to offer support and information. They will organize a second discussion on June 5th, which will be similar to the one held on the 2nd. On Monday evening, an audience of fifty people heard addresses from dean Arto Mustajoki, administrator Esa Hämäläinen and people dealing with crisis support at YTHS.
Hämäläinen started with the timeline of the events, starting from the first headline in Iltalehti on March 14th. Iltalehti had somehow managed to get access to the detention order of a young female and male, who had planned a poison gas and shooting spree at University of Helsinki, revealed by their e-mails, online activity and several impounded items. The detention order was ordered secret and both Hämäläinen and the dean noted that the university had problems with getting information from the police about any details. The university was informed on March 6th about the arrests, but they were told that the matter had to be kept secret and the police was handling the situation. However, the court sessions and the material presented there have been declared open and the evidence and witness statements have been reported widely by the media.
The court will probably give their decision on June 27th, but Hämäläinen wanted to point out that since this is an important precedent, they will probably order a psychological evaluation on the accused and the case will most likely go through all possible levels of the justice system. The law making the planning of a crime punishable in Finland took effect only in 2012 and some material provided as evidence in the case have been from years before that.
University of Helsinki’s crisis management group has met several times and assessed what kinds of measures they must be taken. The most important one was to organize a security information meeting for 260 staff members, who keep a watch on the University estates. This was also an important chance for them to talk about their work with professionals. The crisis management group has updated their management system for crisis situations. Hämäläinen also pointed out that the discussions organized gave them important insight into what kinds of actions should be taken to guarantee student security. One important suggestion that rose from the audience was to go through the exit plans and the security instructions with freshmen. The university is also developing a mass text message system, at least among the staff members, which could be used in a crisis situation.
Hämäläinen also wanted to acknowledge that in a way this was not a crisis situation, since luckily no physical threat arose. No one can say whether the threat possibly would have taken place, but the court will make its assessment in June.
The dean stated that our university must learn more about providing information during a crisis situation and he said that it is not the best option for the university on rely to news they get from Yle and other media channels. He wanted to highlight that the openness and publicity create security and that universities are open spaces, when in contrast schools, the parliament or ministries are not, and that it has an important principle of keeping lectures and spaces open for anyone.
Dean Mustajoki ended the discussion with reflections on whether his and our world has changed after these events and compared them to the accident with the cruise ship Estonia in 1994, where 852 Swedish, Estonian and Finnish people perished. He stated that before that, no one could have imagined that something like that could happen so close to us. Now we are facing confusion and feelings of insecurity similar to that crisis. He also stated that Finnish people are culturally not very good at dealing with insecurity, which is a result of our Protestant background. He wanted everybody to know that there are people to talk to and that we should all accept each other’s ways of dealing with the situation.
What you can do:
- Read the Safety and Security guide from Flamma, also in English
- If you see a disturbance or a crisis situation, call 112 AND/OR contact university personnel
- In a state of emergency, follow Flamma’s main page for further information
- Keep calm
Ideas from YTSH (student health organization):
- Keep a routine and carry on with your life
- It is normal to feel confused and shocked
- You might experience anxiety or even physical symptoms that are caused by shock and fear. These feeling are normal and they might be caused by an event in your past.
- If these symptoms get worse, if you cannot sleep or the anxiety gets strong, contact YTHS
- Remember that it’s normal to feel scared and to worry and that some people are more sensitive to these sorts of news
- Accept that people deal with these kinds of events differently, do not judge
- “What if”s are natural and healthy, but it’s best to not think about them alone, but with a group
- Talk about your feelings with your friends, even making jokes about them amongst your friends can help