Police make arrest in Kean death threats

Former student, rally participant charged; ministers still calling for president’s resignation

UNION COUNTY, NJ — A two-week long investigation for the user of infamous Twitter account @keanuagainstblk, which published death threats against black students and sent the school community into chaos on Tuesday, Nov. 17, has led the Union County Prosecutor’s Office to a black activist that had participated in on-campus peace rallies for raising racial awareness.

In an email to all students at the university on Tuesday, Dec. 1, president Dawood Farahi and Union County Prosecutor Grace Park announced that 24-year-old Kayla-Simone McKelvey, whose LinkedIn profile says she is a personal trainer from Union, has been charged with one count of third-degree creating a false public alarm.

“An intensive joint investigation by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office’s Special Prosecutions Unit and the Kean University Police Department revealed that McKelvey, a self-proclaimed activist, participated in
a student rally regarding racial issues held on Tuesday, Nov. 17,” reads the statement. She “left the rally midway through and walked to a computer station located in a university library.”

The Prosecutor’s Office believes McKelvey then created an anonymous Twitter handle, @keanuagainstblk, and posted a string of hateful messages — including one, at about 10:30 p.m., which read “I will kill every Black male and female at Kean University,” which was re-tweeted more than 50 times — before returning to the rally.

Classes were held as usual the next day. The Kean University Police Department didn’t believe the threats were credible, and the investigation found that McKelvey never actually intended hurt students, according to the statement. But at the time, many black students chose not to attend class.

“We are saddened to learn that the person allegedly responsible was an active participant in the rally that took place on campus on Tuesday, Nov. 17, and is a former student of Kean,” reads a Kean statement issued on Tuesday, Dec. 1. “As a diverse academic community, we wholeheartedly respect and support activism, however, no cause or issue gives anyone the right to threaten the safety of others. We hope this information will begin to bring a sense of relief and security to the campus community.”

The first courtroom appearance for McKelvey will be on Monday, Dec. 14, in the Union County Courthouse. According to her LinkedIn profile, McKelvey was Kean’s Homecoming Queen last fall and graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education.

The immediate fallout from the Twitter death threats, and Kean’s decision to go ahead with classes the next day, was dramatic. Financial settlements with former black faculty had just come to light, and a coalition of what started as eight ministers, and has grown to 20, believed this the tipping point for them to publicly protest a racist culture at Kean.

Led by Rev. Ronald Slaughter of Newark’s St. James AME Church, they called for Farahi’s immediate resignation. That hasn’t changed with this latest development, even though it’s “a shame” if McKelvey is indeed responsible for the death threats.

“I’m happy that they’ve apprehended the person. That individual needs all the help she can get, for intimidating persons and terrorizing persons. That’s basically what you did, with that Tweet, you terrorized people,” said Slaughter. “But that does not change our position, that was just one of many reasons why Farahi has to go. And for those people who think we are just race-baiting or don’t have factual evidence, we do have factual evidence.”

The coalition’s other complaints remain, said Slaughter, regardless of who was behind @keanuagainstblk, having more to do with Farahi and the Kean administration than McKelvey.

The tenured professors-to-student ratio is “dismal,” for example, as student enrollment goes up annually while the number of tenured professors goes down, said Slaughter. The university is “watering down the educational process” with adjuncts, and Kean has lowered its standards to accept at-risk students, many of them minorities, yet cuts tutoring programs and services that might help them succeed in a collegiate environment, Slaughter added.

That’s why Slaughter believes the Kean University Board should vote “yay” on Saturday, Dec. 5, to follow through with an independent investigation, or basically “an audit for racial issues,” said Slaughter, although he believes the state senate will fund it instead. On Friday, Dec. 11, the coalition is holding a rally on Morris Avenue in Union.

Farahi has been defended in other quarters, though, including by State Sen. Raymond Lesniak. After meeting with the coalition and hearing their criticisms on Monday, Nov. 23, Lesniak, a longtime supporter of Farahi, said they’ve gone “way too far” in calling for Farahi’s removal, according to an NJ.com report.

“It was a very open and frank discussion among the ministers there and legislators, and we all agreed to continue the dialogue and move forward,” said Lesniak, adding that the ministers have given too much credibility to disgruntled former employees in their investigation. “These are only allegations and they have a right and should be investigated to determine to what extent they are true and what needs to be done, but they are only allegations.”

The longtime Kean president had rightly denounced the anonymous Twitter threats in the strongest of terms, added Lesniak, and has fully retained support of the university’s 13-person board, “which includes two African American leaders,” according to the report. And based on Farahi’s record in diversity and opportunity at Kean, added Lesniak, there’s been nothing to warrant the president’s resignation.

Members of the coalition, including Rev. Slaughter and pastor Steffi Bartley of Elizabeth’s New Hope Memorial Baptist Church, cited the civil rights activistism of Martin Luther King, Jr., in denouncing Lesniak’s comment that they’ve gone “way too far.”

“This is a direct insult to civil rights in this nation,” said Slaughter. “By accusing our coalition of going ‘way too far,’ you are invoking the same rhetorical approach that has been used to deny rights to minorities throughout history.”