Written By: Nicholas Ashenfelter
On Sept. 4, the student body received an email from Shanna Meyer, Interim Vice President of Student Affairs, referencing a potential noose sighting in the woods on south campus near Prince George (PG) Resident Hall. This caused an uproar– one that turned to confusion on Sept. 9, as another email materialized, this one revealing the noose had never been. This left many St. Mary’s College of Maryland students wondering what happened.
The investigation began at 12:15 a.m. on Sept. 2, when Campus Security received a report from Coach Christopher Harney after a student had informed him of a noose in the woods behind PG. At 12:30 a.m. that same morning, Coach Harney and Sgt. Wendell Wade investigated the woods themselves, but due to the darkness and mud, they considered the route impassable and decided to return the next morning.
At 7:15 a.m. on Sept. 2, Sgt. Nataisha Young and Officer Mary Bowles worked together to investigate the woods. At 9:00 a.m. they were joined by Captain and Assistant Director Christopher Coons, who accompanied them based on his greater knowledge of the area. In these trips, the security personnel trekked the entire area from PG to Route 5 to the library, backtracking their steps to ensure every inch of ground was covered.
Young, Bowles and Coons documented and photographed their findings, which indicated a far more innocuous explanation than was initially perceived. The three found what was known to be a gathering site for students–complete with a collection of tables, chairs, and tarps. The officers also found several ropes, some on the ground and some tied to trees, which had historically been used to hang tarps and section off the area. One of these ropes was “positively identified” by the initial reporter as what they had believed to be a noose the night of the incident. Based on the evidence and a follow-up interview with the initial reporter, Campus Security produced a formal report on the event.
Meyer described her goal throughout this process as ensuring the“safety and health of the community.” In pursuit of her “goal of transparency,” when Campus Security alerted her to the tip of a potential noose, she made this knowledge public. Her email reads that Campus Security found ropes “that were perceived to be nooses”– neither confirmation nor denial of the potentially malicious nature of these ropes, as she herself did not know. This email also included links to different school-sponsored programs about race.
When Student Affairs received the full report from Campus Security, they sent an email to update students on the results of the investigation, informing them that what was found in the woods was not a noose. However, Meyer did not consider this to mean the administration’s efforts were pointless. The newly appointed Interim Chief Diversity Officer, Kelsey Bush, explained that “perception is reality,” elaborating that perceptions, even false, can impact people as severely as something real. To illustrate this, he recalled a case as a student where people at a party had built a bonfire near a large cross–a benign act that he noted could come across as much worse.
Bush and Meyer agreed that these perceptions can create “situations that we don’t want, especially right now, in the climate we’re in,” as Bush phrased it. He said he did not want “to tear the house down” in his position, he simply wanted to provide help where he could. Meyer added that “we all need grace”–so neither she nor Bush are asking for anything extraordinary, just care and concern for the members of our community.
When speaking to Tressa Setlak, Director of Campus Security, and asking about the history of SMCM in relation to instances like this, her reply was optimistic. It has not been “ very often” that they received reports of racial intolerance. She referenced a past case in which hateful messages were being distributed in the area, but on campus it did not become a substantial issue. It was “very short-lived,” but throughout the duration, the office resolved to be “extra diligent” to keep the community clean.