While students were gone over spring break, concerned administrators and faculty of the college met to discuss what Director of Residence Life Joanne Goldwater called a “level of rudeness and unpleasantness we’ve not seen in years.” This meeting, a special meeting of a standing committee called The Behavioral Intervention Team, was called to respond to a variety of different types of harassment on campus directed towards different groups of students, some of whom, said Assistant Professor of Philosophy Sybol Anderson, “no longer feel safe on this campus.”
The recent debate over the Daily Grind’s purchasing of Chick-fil-A sandwiches sparked a number of verbal threats, harassment, and abuse directed towards LGBT students, but there have also been accounts of rudeness and abuse directed towards students with disabilities, as well as a general decrease in the community-based ethos that until now had distinguished the St. Mary’s campus.
Goldwater, is a part of the standing Behavioral Intervention Team, which is comprised of representatives from the faculty, the Office of Public Safety (PS), the Residence Life office, the Counseling Center and the Judicial Board to “keep an eye on” student sentiment on campus, and to “make sure students don’t fall through the cracks.” The special meeting over spring break was called specifically in response to the evidence of the increased level of harassment on campus and included Library Director Celia Rabinowitz and Anderson, among others. Rabinowitz and Anderson had facilitated a forum on the Chick-fil-A debate and were aware of students feeling that the institutional value of creating a ‘safe space’ had been violated.
Anderson said “it was clear the college has to respond” to the harassment, and calling a meeting to address this was “exactly the right step at the right time.” Anderson said that leaving the issue to slowly die out at the end of the semester and over the summer, for example, would cause members of the College community to miss out on the opportunity to have discussions about community at St. Mary’s. Anderson said, “its clear that incivility is not the St. Mary’s way. We want to send a clear message that this is unacceptable behavior…and come together to address this issue in a coordinated way.”
Goldwater and Rabinowitz reiterated that this issue is a chance to address larger issues of community at St. Mary’s. Goldwater related the special meeting of the Behavioral Intervention Team to similar discussions about “the St. Mary’s Way” and talk of making an honor code for behavior on campus.
She said, “we’re trying to remind people that this is a special place here,” and that the people and campus itself deserve a general standard of respect. “Don’t be hateful!” said Goldwater, adding that it is the duty of the College to educate students on how to be kind to each other and act like reasonable adults.
As for any person who is currently dealing with harassment, there are a number of different suggestions that many of those at the meeting offered. One way is to report the harassment, either to PS directly or through the “silent witness” form on the PS website. Christopher Santiago, director of PS, said, “this helps us identify the patterns of harassment…and focus on what we need to address.” Many echoed this sentiment, arguing that without knowing the patterns and specifics of harassment, it is hard to directly address them. The reporting can be totally anonymous and need not identify any parties involved. For students that don’t wish to involve PS, Rabinowitz recommended seeking out “safe space” faculty and staff, who exhibit the “safe space” sticker on their offices, and going to the counseling center.
Rabinowitz said, “many students feel like they just have to get used to” being harassed and feeling unsafe. However, the special meeting came up with a variety of different tactics to deal with the harassment. Some involve actively training faculty and staff to facilitate discussions and disagreements in a way that respects all parties involved, and programs to change attitudes. While students may have a variety of different values, and come from many different communities, there are ways to have civil debate that do not include abusing and harassing people who disagree. Rabinowitz said, “we’re not trying to replace values that students may have,” saying instead that the College has values that it tries to follow as an institution, but that no one is forcing beliefs on any individual.