In response to an online petition that has now accrued more than 400 signatures, the Office of the President and the Student Government Association held a community meeting to discuss the issue of transparency between school administration and students. Primarily led by Dean of Students Lee Williams, she and other administrators defended several policies in response to the petition and admitted that others could use some improvements.
The meeting commenced with a short speech by the President that stressed Wheaton’s best moments, such as the ones that bring students out in support of a particular cause they feel passionate about. One example he used was the meeting held in the Dimple in 2005 to address discrimination against lesbian athletes.
“Wheaton College, from my perspective, is all about community,” said President Crutcher.
Dean Williams, who had been on medical leave until only a week prior to the meeting, then took the lead in discussion, first stating that she had never formally received the petition, despite it being addressed to her.
In an email, Williams described herself as “anxious to read” the petition, and thought of it as “an interesting treatise, with more opinion and background content than a petition usually has.” She also addressed inaccurate information within it.
Williams went over each of the six suggestions in the petition. In response to the demand that text message and email alerts be used more often, Chuck Furgal, Director of Public Safety, and Michael Graca, Assistant Vice President for Communications, responded. Both stressed the limitations of Wheaton’s text messaging services, stating that they are limited in the number of characters they can send. However, both said they do send text message alerts in the event of an immediate threat or danger. Graca also stated that they had reached out to the students behind the petition and planned on meeting with them in coming weeks.
Williams addressed the second demand of the petition, regarding hate crimes on campus. She stated that unless the crime involved sensitive information, the student body is currently — and will continue to be — informed by email.
Williams also explained that Wheaton classifies hate crimes under the phrase “bias incident,” which is a broader term and applies to a wider range of crimes that may not be severe enough to be called hate crimes. A student later said that she had never heard of the term, and Williams said that although information on “bias incidents” is available on the Wheaton website, Wheaton needs to do a better job “publicizing our protocol.”
The petition’s third point asked that students be updated on the status of ongoing investigations. Williams said that there were certain cases in which the police had asked the school not to send out information, though Furgal admitted that in certain cases, the administration could have released information but did not.
The fifth and sixth demands, which deal with sexual assault awareness, were covered simultaneously, with Williams stating that she felt the administration had been very transparent on that issue in particular. Since a meeting held to address sexual assault in 2010, she said, Wheaton has taken serious action on this issue. She explained the use of the freshmen orientation program, particularly her sessions on sexual health that all freshmen were required to attend in the past two years.
Williams concluded the meeting by inviting student input. If students want information on particular issues, she said, the best thing they can do is “ask us and we’ll tell you what we know.”