Former student charged with racist death threats appears in court

File Photo Former Kean student Kayla-Simone McKelvey has been charged with making these threats, among others, via Twitter.com. She made her first appearance in court and pled not guilty to the charges.
File Photo
Former Kean student Kayla-Simone McKelvey has been charged with making these threats, among others, via Twitter.com. She made her first appearance in court and pled not guilty to the charges.

UNION COUNTY, NJ — At her first scheduled court appearance on Monday, Dec. 14, Kayla-Simone McKelvey, the 24-year-old woman police believe was behind Twitter death threats aimed at black Kean University students, plead not guilty to third-degree creating a false public alarm.

In the brief proceeding at the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth, McKelvey, a personal trainer and recent Kean graduate living in Union, offered no public comment, according to the Star-Ledger.

McKelvey faces up to five years in jail, if found guilty, but could be granted a shortened sentence because she lacks any criminal history, added the report.

McKelvey, who is black, was Kean’s Homecoming Queen last fall, graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in physical education, was president of the campus chapter of the Pan African Student Union, and became a student activist at on-campus rallies dealing with racial issues.

Police believe she’s behind a series of racist death threats that sent Kean into chaos on Tuesday, Nov. 17, and have
been a statewide storyline ever since, while she was at an on-campus rally intended to spread awareness about racial issues in colleges.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Dec. 1, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office alleged McKelvey created the infamous Twitter handle, @keanagainstblks, when she “left the rally midway through and walked to a computer station located in a university library.”

Then, at about 10:30 p.m, McKelvey posted a string of hateful messages — including one reading “I will kill every black male and female at Kean University,” which was re-tweeted more than 50 times — before returning to the rally, according to the statement.

Security was increased at the university afterwards, but classes were held as scheduled, as police believed the threats lacked credibility. Some students chose not to attend classes the following day.

The fallout from the incident has been long-lasting, though.
A coalition of black ministers, including several Union County figures and Rev. Ronald Slaughter of the St. James AME Church in Newark, immediately called for the resignation of Kean president Dawood Farahi, saying racist death threats were evidence that a culture of “structural racism” had taken over the campus.

The coalition was at the forefront of a 70-person, two-hour protest outside Kean’s main entrance on Friday, Dec. 11, in which state lawmakers, civil rights activists, faculty members and some students demanded Farahi leave his position, which he has held for 13 years.

Protesters like James Castiglione, the president of the Kean Federation of Teachers, and NAACP President Richard Smith, didn’t spend much time on McKelvey’s arrest, instead delivering a bevy of other reasons for Farahi to resign: A decline of full-time faculty in the classroom, support services and other personnel which are responsible for helping students — including at-risk minority students — succeed in a collegiate environment.

“Kean says it offers world class education. How can you offer world class education when you have more adjunct professors than tenured professors? How can you offer world class education when the minorities, which are the majority, reside in fear?” said Slaughter, speaking to the crowd through a megaphone. “This culture of fear must be run out of this institution. And the only way to get rid of it is to get rid of president Farahi.”

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