Carlos Corrada, Member-at-Large for the class of 2022, requested for a last-minute Urgent Discussion to be placed on the SGA Agenda. Corrada spoke of a Wheaton female student of color who had been detained and arrested, and was currently awaiting information on her legal hearing. Corrada stated that the student had then been asked to leave campus, waiting on information concerning a Wheaton College internal conduct hearing, having been informed that expulsion was a possibility. He went on to mention that the student had several witnesses, including character witnesses, who spoke to her innocence.
Corrada’s summary of events is as follows, “A queer woman of color who attends Wheaton College MA was arrested for assault and battery of an officer after he grabbed her when they had told her she was not being charged with anything. When the police arrived on the scene, she asked them, “Am I being arrested?” And they replied, “No.” She proceeded to walk away and an officer grabbed her. She did not lay a single hand on the officer, just tried to maneuver around them. There were more than three officers at the scene and they just watched. There is no footage that they have released to us and no proof that there was an assault against an officer. The college has since suspended her until she has a conduct hearing with the school, which is not for at least another week. If she is seen on campus she will get arrested and she has nowhere to go right now with no funds. She is still paying for tuition and food even when she cannot be attending the college. Once the college makes the decision, she will either be expelled or be able to come back.” Corrada’s entire statement is included below.
Corrada brought up the student’s concerns about being able to afford the various expenses associated with the situation, specifically when it came to money for transportation to and from court, groceries, and employing an attorney. Corrada referenced his firm belief in the college’s dedication to students’ safety and equity, and asked for the Student Government’s support to allow SGA-recognized clubs to speak out, suggesting potential platforms, including chalking, and flyers. Corrada also spoke of the student’s concern about the conduct policies and suggested a hope that the ensuing conversation would include a discussion of the current policies.
Sofie Weston, the Communications and Marketing Chair for the Class of 2022, spoke of her worry that action had been taken too quickly. Sophie Waters ’23, SGA Secretary, pointed to administrative presence at the protest, speaking of her hope that SGA, as a student organization, would take a clear stance of student support. Guthrie Hartsfield ’23, SGA Treasurer, asked that SGA keep in mind that they were not administration and that they, therefore, had a responsibility to openly advocate for the student body. He spoke of his belief that SGA had a responsibility to the students to do more with their voice than simply not intervene.
Aba Lypps ’21, SGA President, spoke of their worry when it came to the student’s incredibly vulnerable position of homelessness, citing the pandemic. They suggested that it was highly irresponsible of the administration to ask the student to leave campus, redirecting the conversation towards a focus on figuring out the path forward for the student’s safety. Mikaela Savarese ’22, Accessibility Chair, suggested that a Town Hall with the arbiters of the conduct process might be an appropriate path forward, to bridge the space between the students and the administration. As SGA, she suggested, they could create this platform to empower the students and get the answers to questions being asked about the conduct process.
Eva Danielson, 2022 Class Council Chair, asked after the student in question. She questioned what would be the most helpful route for the student, stating her understanding of the need for anonymity, but the hope of communicating effectively with the student to ensure that any action taken would be helpful for the student. Corrada brought the conversation back to the student’s need for money for the various aforementioned expenses. He also spoke about concern for the conduct process, as the student had been informed that the decision for or against expulsion would be a unilateral decision made by one member of the Wheaton administration.
Mason Willix, a Member-At-Large for the Class of 2024, referenced her belief that the students should remain loyal to Wheaton, suggesting that she believed the information provided was inadequate, and she did not yet feel well informed enough to vote on any decision regarding the situation. Corrada responded, saying that he was attempting to keep the student’s identity private, but any other omitted information was the college’s lack of communication. Victor Edwards ’22, Education Council Chair, asked that the students refrain from engaging in a protest without further information, suggesting that financial support might be a more useful intervention on the part of the student government.
Meshal Muzzafar ’21, Chair of the College Hearing Board, spoke up at the point, providing information about the conduct process itself. She stated all her training suggested that it would not be a singular person making the decision. Several students, including Emily Dionne ’21 and Ben Goho ’24 expressed their desire for more information.
Emiliano Herrera-Rosa ‘23 expressed apprehension about the seemingly arbitrary nature of conduct hearings, speaking of the inconsistency in the outcome of past sexual assault allegations, a topic which several other members referenced as a comparison to the situation at hand.
Lypps stated their clear belief that the most important task at hand, as SGA, was to represent “what Wheaton is.” They pointed to the necessity for SGA to follow Wheaton’s values and spoke of these values as taking absolute precedence in any discussion, speaking self-determination, of equality, and the student-created honor code, suggesting a responsibility to be community-focused at all times.
Corrada’s response led to back and forth comments about SGA procedures with regard to finance. During which, SGA Vice-President Abby Cook ’22 played a key role in setting out the options available to the association at the time. She stated that access to SGA funds would require the creation of an Ad-hoc committee to put together an itemized budget that would have to be voted on by the Senate. Given the time constraints of the Friday hearing, the Senate voted on a motion to have an emergency meeting the next day, with enough voting members agreeing to reach a quorum.
Savarese suggested that a clear conversation with the administration would be vital for any path forward, referencing Corrada’s previous points about healthy and respectful discussions being important in finding out more information. Edwards at this point, took the parallel to sexual assault allegations in a different direction, suggesting that perhaps the lack of information spoke to a possibility of the student being at fault.
Danielson spoke up again, pointing to the maxim of “innocent until proven guilty,” stating that she believed the association simply had to help out a student in need. She then motioned for the creation of an Ad-hoc committee to fulfill four points. The first being the sending of an email regarding the situation to administration to ensure that the student was receiving a fair hearing through the conduct process and express dissatisfaction at the decision to remove the student from campus, with the second clause stating that the committee would update the Senate during the next meeting. The third concerned future interaction with the administration, given the collaborative projects in the works, and the fourth being an exploration of ways to support this student’s immediate needs including food and shelter that she had been deprived of.
The motion passed, with the discussion concluding with the creation of an Ad-hoc Committee for Institutional Accountability, chaired by Carlos Corrada. The Class of 2022 Class Council made the decision to hold a food drive, to collect groceries and Uber gift cards for the student.
The report on the other projects and proposals discussed at this week’s SGA Senate meeting will be published at a later date.
Corrada’s Message to the Senate:
“I wish to address you all in a formal manner for the purpose of the record. A female, person of color student in Wheaton was recently detained and arrested, falsely charged with assault and battery of a police officer. We have witness accounts stating otherwise, and character witnesses of her personality also add to her defense.
She has been suspended from campus with no financial assistance; meaning that Wheaton College suspended her, knowing that she does not have a nearby residence. She has had to gather money to fund her stay off-campus and her transportation to and from the court.
Wheaton has addressed this inappropriately and has threatened this student with expulsion.
This is all due to Wheaton College’s Conduct process. They have targeted her because of the violent nature of the assault and battery charge, and this is regardless of the legitimacy of the charge itself. If the question is about violence, what about the sexual assault and harassment claims on behalf of students over the summer? When put in comparison with how Wheaton managed these sexual harassment cases, it is unacceptable and absurd how quick they were to jump on this student’s case. Yet, rapists continue to live on and freely tread through our campus. Whether it is a topic of the sexual offenders’ white race compared to this student’s person-of-color race is another point of notable discussion.
I ask of you, the Senate of SGA, the following:
To give the whole of the student body permission to express themselves peacefully and respectfully over the subject matter. To create flyers and posters, to write and draw on the walks of the school campus with chalk, and to protest peacefully.
I know you all to be responsible, intelligent and determined, yet most of you hold some degree of resent over recent developments within the school. I urge you all to please take part in this, as it is clear that some policies in our institution need serious reform and adjustment.”