Clowns ‘seen’ on campus

Kelsey Purcell

Halloween came early this year, but instead of the usual good fun the holiday normally brings, this spooky season has had a few more tricks than treats.

Across the nation, clown sightings have been reported starting in late August in South Carolina, and spreading to at least 39 other states, including Texas. Michael Vandehey, psychology professor, said he believes the rapid spread of the clown sightings have been largely caused by media coverage.

“You have the upcoming remake of Stephen King’s It, so what we have is something that was an interesting story. These clowns were [scaring people] in South Carolina, it makes national news, and then you have copycats,” Vandehey said. “These things become popularized, and then individuals copycat them.”

However, Vandehey said that he believes people are not only copying the clowns for attention, but also making false reports for attention.

“It’s popular to say you have seen them,” Vandehey said. “I suspect if there had been no media exposure to the South Carolina reports, we would not be having a clown craze at all.”

Most of the clown sightings have been reported to be false, yet the talk of clown sightings continues. There have been rumors that clowns have been spotted on campus.

“On the evening of Monday Oct. 3, [the police station] had two different callers at two different times report to us something clown related,” Patrick Coggins, chief of police, said. “We were told by both callers that they were told by someone else that two people wearing clown costumes were seen walking in the area towards campus. But, none of what we were called about had any allegation of criminal behavior.”

However, Coggins said no evidence of clowns has been found.

“We have not been able to locate anybody wearing clown gear on campus, and we have not spoken to anybody who has given us a first hand report that they have seen clowns,” Coggins said.

Regardless, the rumors, be they true or not, have scared some students.

“I, personally, am afraid of clowns, and take this matter seriously,” Haylee Fowler, English sophomore, said. “If I saw a clown on campus, I would be terrified.”

According to Coggins, causing this type of fear in students could result in punishment.

“If the intent of a person is to cause fear to somebody, and it’s done in a harassing manner, depending on the circumstances, it could rise to the level of criminal,” Coggins said.

Coggins also said that if the offender is a student, there are other rules in regards to what can and cannot be done to other students.

“Here on campus, students are held to the Code of Student Life, which is a disciplinary code for students, and that some behavior that causes fear and anxiety and intimidation towards other students could also be a violation of student code, so there is a potential for discipline there,” Coggins said.

Aside from punishments to the offender, Vandehey said there is a potential for psychological damage to be done to people who have coulrophobia, the fear of clowns.

“So what a phobia is, it’s a stimulus that produces an intense fear or an intense anxiety response. So what’s happening is individuals are having this process, and it’s being cued by a clown,” Vandehey said.

Vandehey said he believes part of the reason for this fear of clowns is due to how some clowns are depicted in movies, amoung other things.

“There are images in our culture where clowns are scary; they have pointed teeth, they have wicked eyes, so that also supports the phobia because instead of clowns being seen as fun, they’re being seen as evil and demonic.”

Fowler agreed.

“They’re really creepy, and I’ve been scared by clowns before, so it’s only heightened the fear I have,” Fowler said. “Their mannerisms don’t make them seem ‘friendly’ or anything like they say they’re supposed to be; it just makes them seem fake and very disturbing,” Vandehey said.

However, not everyone is scared by these clown sightings.

“Honestly, I think the whole clown situation is a joke. I wouldn’t say I’m surprised by the fact that it has gotten this far, but, still, it’s a little bit too much,” Hector Hernandez, respiratory therapy junior, said.

Austan Davis, marketing sophomore, agreed.

“I think it’s just some bit for attention. It’ll hash over soon,” Davis said.

Many people believe that those who are dressing as clowns, are mostly doing it for attention.

“People may be doing it to be funny, they may be doing it to be cool, they may be doing it because it’s currently popular in the media, they may be doing it because they identify with that character,” Vandehey said.

After the murder of a man dressed in a clown outfit in Newark, NJ on Oct. 4, people said they feel that what happened should caution others from joining in on the clown scares.

“Wearing a costume, in and of itself, is not necessarily a criminal offense. A lot of it depends on behavior and what that person does, the actions of that person. People need to be aware, though, that nowadays, with all that’s going on in the nation right now, people tend to be on edge, and people are reactive,” Coggins said.

Additionally, concealed carry was implemented on campus in August of this year, something that Coggins said he worries might be another component to the clown hysteria.

“We now have concealed carry on campus, and that causes me concern because if I do have people out here causing fear and anxiety intentionally, I cannot guarantee how a concealed handgun license holder may become very scared and react more than he or she wishes to, and that could be a bad situation for everybody concerned. That is another reason not to engage in this type of behavior,” Coggins said.

Davis said he believes concealed carry is a good thing to have in a time like this because there have been some violent acts committed by those dressed in clown outfits.

“Concealed carry keeps everyone more safe. Responsible men and women who do carry help regulate and protect,” Davis said.

Hernandez agreed, but said he will not be concerned until the rumors are validated.

“Based on the fact that we have concealed carry, I don’t see why a clown would want to attack someone in the state of Texas now. It’s just not safe.,” Hernandez said. “Until I see clowns on campus, I don’t think I’ll truly believe the rumors.”

But Hernandez said if he does encounter a violent clown, he will take necessary measures.

“I would fight back if a clown was attacking me,” Hernandez said.

The university does allow self-defense within certain measures.

“Issues of self-defense are all specified in the penal code. In general, people are allowed to protect themselves if they feel like they are in fear,” Coggins said.

For now, Vandehey said he believes that the rumors are simply rumors, and in time, the clown sightings will go away.

“It’s complex. It’s a fad. It will come and go, and if you live long enough, you’ll see it again,” Vandehey said.