What began as a bizarre rumor about a psychic's prediction has taken on a sinister twist at Salisbury State University, where at least five black students have reported they were threatened by anonymous telephone callers.
University officials said yesterday that campus security will be tightened on Saturday, the day students said callers warned, "We are coming to get you."
A rumor began circulating on campus in mid-October that a psychic guest on a recent Oprah Winfrey talk show had predicted a "massacre" would take place at Salisbury State on Oct. 30, the day before Halloween.
Many students disregarded the rumor at first, but reports of the threatening phone calls sent a second wave of alarm through the campus and prompted student leaders to call for an end to racial insensitivity.
Members of the Student Government Association and the Union of African-American Students have scheduled a campus rally for tomorrow evening and a forum in Holloway Hall on Thursday.
Both events are designed to spur discussion of racial relations at the university, where 368 of the school's nearly 6,000 students are black.
"We want to get some things out in the open and let people know we're a little sick of this," said Craig Heilman, a Student Government Association officer and junior from Baltimore.
Lisa Smith, a senior and president of the 50-member Union of African-American Students, said she will attend the meetings but plans to return to her home in Baltimore for the weekend.
"I think a lot of students are going to be leaving the campus that weekend," she said. "On the one hand, you don't want to show fear, but these phone calls have people upset."
Ms. Smith said she was awakened in her room at 1 a.m. Oct. 14 by a caller who told her to "beware, October 30 is coming." She said the caller used a racial epithet.
"I was scared," she said.
Four other students who were threatened over the telephone reported the calls to school authorities, Ms. Smith said, but she added that she thinks twice that number actually received similar anonymous warnings.
Students and school officials said they have no reason to believe the callers were behind the massacre rumor but that they are linking the two because the dates are the same.
Oprah Winfrey publicist Colleen Raleigh said yesterday from Chicago, where the popular daytime show is taped, that the massacre rumor has made the rounds on college campuses just before Halloween for several years.
"There's absolutely no truth to it," she said. "There has never been a psychic on predicting this, and we haven't had a psychic on the show in six or seven years."
Carole Williamson, the Salisbury dean of students, praised student leaders for speaking out against the racist phone calls.
"This is the first time there's been a coalition of all the students saying we don't want this here," she said. "I am heartened by their action."
She said she would not advise students to remain on campus over the weekend if they do not feel secure. "It's really a very personal call, and I wouldn't make it for anyone," she said. "But I believe the campus is safe."
University spokesman Gains Hawkins said the rumor and the phone calls come at an unfortunate time, since Saturday is the school's annual fall "family weekend," when several thousand parents are expected to join their children on campus for a day of football, receptions and barbecue dinners.
He said some parents have called school officials asking about the rumor but that he was not aware of any visits to the campus being canceled because of fear.
Mr. Hawkins said university administrators are taking concerns about Saturday seriously and that campus security employees will work 12-hour shifts this weekend instead of the routine eight-hour periods.
In a memo distributed on the campus Thursday, Thomas E. Bellavance, president of Salisbury State, reported the telephone warnings and announced that "every technological and investigative technique is being used to trace the origin of the threatening calls."