Administration Addresses Questions on Security Issues

J.B. Sivanich

Over the past two terms, many students have raised questions about the administration’s handling of security situations and their communication with the student body. These questions arose after an e-mail and accompanying letter were sent out to students in December. This e-mail explained that dangerous chemicals had been found in a Hiett quad during regular room checks, but that the matter had been taken care of and was now part of a police investigation.
As a result of the investigation, the four students living in the quad were suspended indefinitely, a fact that elicited most of the negative reaction. Claire Burke, a junior, offered, “I think that many people took this situation personally, because so many people were friends with the four people involved in the incident.”
While the details of the administration’s treatment of the four students were only passed through hearsay, they quickly became the source of frustration.
When asked, one of the accused Hiett students, who wished to remain anonymous, had some comments to share on the administration’s treatment of him and his quad-mates.
“They absolutely treat[ed] us like liabilities,” he said. “They forced us off and banned us from campus as a ‘health and safety risk’ to the Lawrence community which is, of course, absurd. There was never any chance for us to defend ourselves in any way.”
Two of the four Hiett students have recently learned that the criminal charges against them have been dropped. Both hope to return to Lawrence in the fall.
When asked to comment, Dean of Students Nancy Truesdell declined to speak on the specifics of how the Hiett situation was handled, saying, “The police took over the situation and still are in charge of it.”
She did reiterate, though, that if “the college has reason to believe that there is a dangerous, unsafe or illegal situation going on campus, we have every right to take action to protect the safety of the students and the college community. And that would even include taking action with students involved in whatever kind of dangerous, potentially unsafe situation that might be going on.”
A second security concern occurred in the past month, when a male student was found in a female student’s dorm room, having entered without the female student’s permission; the male student was allegedly hiding under the female student’s bed.
A meeting was held in Trever Hall with female residents, where the incident took place, as a chance for the Residence Life staff to “give the information they could, instead of just letting rumors go,” said Truesdell.
News of the incident spread fast and, with it, came questions of why there was no formal statement from the administration similar to the one issued in regards to the Hiett drug incident.
These concerns were expressed in a letter to the editor published in the May 2 edition of The Lawrentian from senior Peter Bennett. In the letter, Bennett provided all the information he believed to be true of both situations and said that the letter was submitted in hopes of receiving a response from the administration that would clear up any inaccuracies in the story.
In retrospect, though, this effort and others aimed at talking to the administration about how these situations have been handled might have been in vain, because the administration cannot legally discuss the disciplinary cases of students publicly.
Under the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act — commonly referred to as FERPA — Lawrence cannot disclose the records, both academic and disciplinary, of any of its students or former students to the greater public. This includes mentioning any of the particulars of how the cases were handled.
As Dean Truesdell explained, “FERPA was put in place to protect students, as adults, and so they are responsible and accountable for their own records. It was not intended, in any way, to have crimes or inappropriate behavior become acceptable. It’s there to protect the everyday, law-abiding student so that his or her records are not shared inappropriately with other people.”
Bennett still questioned why this fact could not have been made clear to students sooner, so there would not have been as much frustration among the student body when it did not receive answers.
Claire Gannon, a junior, also questioned why an e-mail that respected the legal rights of the man involved with the Trever incident could not be sent to the student body simply saying that there was a recent security violation.
She suspected that this e-mail could take the outline of what was said in the all-female meeting in Trever and would help with raising awareness in hopes of preventing the incident from reoccurring.
While the direct incident was not repeated, the man in question — in later discussions, Dean Truesdell stressed that this person is now a former student — re-entered Colman Hall, violating the restrictions the administration had placed on him.
Dean Truesdell explained how this event related to normal protocol, saying, “We are expecting someone to reasonably follow our restrictions, and if they don’t, then an escalated response occurs. And that’s what happened in this case. I don’t think that it is a secret that the police were involved with this particular incident.”
This past Monday, members of the administration hosted an open forum in the coffeehouse to encourage communication about campus events. While originally slated to discuss public art and the SigEp “P + H” postering campaign, both the Hiett and Trever incidents played a major role in the first hour and a half of discussion.
Students representing multiple opinions repeatedly brought up the issue of deciding how much communication from the administration on security issues is beneficial.
Speaking on communication topics, Dean Truesdell affirmed that there “is a balancing act between respecting students’ privacy rights that are law, and being sure that the community is informed as can be.