As the fall semester was coming to an end, finals weren’t the only concerns for members of Together We All Prosper (TWAP) house. They received an email from Dean of Students Lee Williams, which led them to wonder if the final weeks of the semester would also be the final weeks of TWAP.
“I’ve received a recommendation from Res Life that because you’ve violated your probation the house be closed and I would like to talk to you about this matter,” wrote Williams in the email.
“It was the week before tests, so already we were on edge. That just tipped us over,” he said. Word of mouth and social media spread the news to Wheaton students. The possible shutdown of TWAP became a hot topic on campus.
The violations against the house were mainly for two parties held during fall semester. The first party, held at the beginning of the fall semester, was registered through the school. Public Safety broke up the party because the house was over capacity. Afolabi says that they were in the process of trying to stop the party.
“We were told of the following breaches of conduct according to Public Safety’s report: people running out of the house with handles of alcohol, promoting underage drinking through peer pressure and giving students alcohol. In reality, we were only guilty of being over capacity,” said TWAP House member Jay Mimes ’15 in a Facebook note addressing the situation.
In late November, Public Safety broke up another party held at the house. In the weeks prior to the party, members of the house noticed that Public Safety officers were parking in the lot near their house more then usual. They thought Public Safety was paying extra attention to their house activities, especially the night of the party.
Dean of Students Lee Williams said she never ordered Public Safety to watch TWAP House. Williams explained that Public Safety vehicles park in different parts of campus at different times.
“I understand enough to know, that for a young man of color, a law enforcement vehicle is not the most comforting sight in the world,” she said. “For men of color who live in a society that has a Trayvon Martin situation, or others where young black men have been shot for no reason, I get it. I totally get that. I don’t know if Public Safety officers always get that. I think that’s a training issue in trying to address that.”
The night of the second party, Public Safety shut down the event for being over capacity. After asking all non-members to leave, Public Safety officers told members of the house that they were going to search every room for any females. They wanted to make sure that there was no non-consensual sex happening at the house.
Before entering one of the rooms, Public Safety was warned not to go in because in fact there was a member having consensual sex in the room. The officers ignored the warning and proceeded to enter the room.
A member addressing the situation said, “To our knowledge, this invasion has never occurred within any other house or group environment, leading us to believe that these officers think we are essentially a house full of potential molesters and rapists.”
Williams explained how she addressed the situation. “Its really loaded language. I think the officer who [thought] that understands better now why that’s not appropriate.”
The social gatherings that TWAP held in its first year (2012-2013) gave them a reputation as a party house on campus.
Williams explains that, with this kind of reputation, students could show up looking for a party, which makes it hard for the members of TWAP, who she calls “friendly, and community-oriented” to tell them that they aren’t welcome.
There were other concerns raised about TWAP’s perception on campus. Dean Lee was contacted by a parent whose daughter was told to stay away from TWAP because its members were “dangerous.”
Afolabi and his housemates were upset that someone would think of the house in this way.
“Our doors are literally open to anybody,” he said. “Although we don’t like to be perceived as a house of color, the fact of the matter is, that’s how people look at us,” Lual Charles ’16 said. “I think it’s just a sense of uncertainty, and a sense of not knowing. We do the same things that everyone else does, we just listen to different music and interact differently.”
Some students believed that the house was strictly a party house. “I don’t get it,” Afolabi said, “Just look at every member in the house: athletes, SGA members, actors, artists. It’s bigger then just a party house.”
Other students didn’t want the house shut down because it was a space for social gatherings and a big proponent for diversity on campus.
“We have a range of cultures and backgrounds in our house and a lot of people get the sense of that when they hang out with us,” Charles said. “That’s what we bring to campus and I think a lot of students have felt that.”
The members of TWAP decided it was time to explain the situation. “We knew that something public, like Facebook, was going to be helpful in some way in getting our truth out, in getting the story out,” said Mimes. Mimes wrote a Facebook note in which he described TWAP’s version of events.
He believed that this helped people really understand what happened. “Reading the story, they understood just how violated we felt, and why we felt violated,” he said.
During finals week, members were notified that they would be able to keep the house, as long as there were no private gatherings in the house and members held regular meetings and contributed to the community, among other stipulations.
Dean Lee hoped to learn from the members of the house. “I’m committed to the group to be successful. It’s important to me that they have a good experience. I just want them to feel good when they graduate from Wheaton. I want them to look back and say this is a good place to be,” she said.
Mimes also thought communication is important. “We made significant process with the administration in terms of establishing consistent, clear levels of communication,” he said.
At the beginning of the spring semester, the conversation shifted to the school’s alcohol policies. A forum was held in which students were able to voice their opinions on the policies to members of the administration.
Many students also brought up concerns they had with treatment from Public Safety at the forum.
“Wheaton is a special place. We can say that in brochures, we can say it on tours. But it’s not something you really understand until you come here. I think the officers came here expecting it to be like a quintessential college,” said Mimes.
As a senior, Afolabi wants to do the most he can for the college in his last few months. “I’m always thinking about how we can do better. What can we do more? How can more people know about us so we can help them?” He wants to inspire students to achieve their goals.
TWAP house recently started accepting applications for new members. Mimes explained that being part of the house is not specific to being from New York City, coming from low-income families, or being a minority.
“Anybody that comes to the house can be a part of the brotherhood,” he said. “It’s all about uniting towards a common goal, and really believing in that goal.”
As for the future of TWAP, Afolabi said, “I see us being a bigger thing on campus, bigger promoters of change, advocators of inspiration.
“I think the future of TWAP is limitless,” he said.