College handles recent allegations
Students, faculty and administrators gathered on Tuesday November 15 for a community forum addressing the issue sexual assault on campus.
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In the midst of ongoing student and faculty discourse concerning the issue of sexual assault on the Hill, two Official Notices sent on Thursday, Nov. 10, prompted further discussion on the subject by bringing recent allegations facing members of the campus community to light.
The e-mails—the first of which was from President William “Bro” Adams and the second of which was from the Student Government Association (SGA)—were sent four minutes apart on Thursday morning. Neither e-mail elaborated on the exact nature of the events leading to the allegations.
Adams began his e-mail by stating that “much of the campus is now embroiled in a conversation about whether some members of our community have violated Colby’s sexual misconduct policy,” while SGA wrote to inform students, faculty and staff that “in light of recent pending allegations, we can no longer justify the buses to the football game.” In an interview with the Echo, SGA Co-Presidents Justin Rouse ’12 and Laura Maloney ’12 confirmed that the allegations to which SGA referred in its e-mail are the same as those Adams referenced.
Adams explained in his e-mail that the College had been investigating the allegations since the morning of Sunday, Nov. 6. However, Adams noted that as of Thursday morning, “apart from the initial report of the incident, only two people have come forward voluntarily to provide evidence to the investigators.”
In the e-mail, Adams urged those with information about the situation to contact Director of Security Peter Chenevert or Senior Associate Dean of Students Paul Johnston. “We understand that much depends on the outcome of this investigation and that many of the answers we seek could have an impact on upcoming events,” he wrote. “But we cannot and should not rush the process or our judgments while the investigation is yielding information.”
According to Chenevert, two more students have since voluntarily come forward with information as of Tuesday, Nov. 15. Others have been contacted to provide information.
Chenevert said that currently, he and Johnston are “just trying to get to the truth as to what happened,” explaining that the investigation is still ongoing.
Adams wrote that because of federal laws, College administrators are unable to describe the event in further detail, but acknowledged “the frustration felt by those who want to know more.”
Even after the College completes the investigation, privacy laws will still apply to the situation, limiting the amount of information the College can reveal to the campus community, Adams said.
Though Adams declined to comment beyond the information he wrote in the Official Notice, he said that he has since received a few responses to the e-mail from students and faculty members, and these responses were mostly positive.
STUDENT LEADERS SPEAK
Aware that Adams would be sending out an Official Notice on Nov. 10, SGA members showed administrators, members of Campus Life and Harold Alfond Athletic Director Marcella Zalot a draft of their own e-mail the night of Nov. 9, Maloney said. “They were supportive of our decision-making process and supportive of where we were coming from,” Rouse said.
In their Notice—signed with the names of all seven members of its executive board—SGA informed the College community that it had originally planned to send two fan buses to Brunswick, Maine on Saturday, Nov. 12, to support students competing in cross country and football events at Bowdoin College. However, because of the recent pending allegations, SGA informed students that they would no longer send a bus to the football game but would still run a bus at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday to transport students to the cross-country meet.
SGA members did not provide further details in their e-mail other than noting that “although the charges are only allegations, they are of a serious and ongoing nature. We cannot support students who may have acted in a blatant breach of our values of a community.”
In the e-mail, they noted that “it was with the support of so many of our peers that we made this decision,” but they explained that the choice was not easy. “The hardest part of this decision is that there will be peers who we care about who feel strongly that we have made the wrong decision and members of the football team who feel like we have let them down,” SGA members wrote.
“I think one of our main criticisms when we sent [the Official Announcement] out is that people are citing it as explicitly in contrast to what Bro wrote,” Maloney said.
THE END OF A SEASON
Saturday’s football game, which the Mules lost, had been critical to the team’s chances at winning an outright Colby-Bates-Bowdoin (CBB) title for the first time since 2005, according to a Nov. 11 press release. The press release, posted on the football team’s page on the College’s website, described the game against Bowdoin as “annually the biggest game of the season for both teams.” The game was also the last for the 17 seniors on the team.
On Friday, Nov. 11, Head Football Coach Ed Mestieri said, “With regard to SGA’s decision to cancel the bus, it’s a decision that I can respect,” but he declined to comment further on the situation. Football captains Thomas Duffy ’12, Nicholas Kmetz ’12 and Connor Walsh ’12 could not be reached for comment.
At Whittier Field in Brunswick, “there was a lot of energy around the alumni-parent-student tailgate…[but] the student crowd seemed very quiet around the sidelines,” said Rouse, who attended the game. “Students were very supportive of the team’s effort, but there was definitely less cheering than I have seen at other games.” Chenevert noted that three members of the football team did not play in the game. “Some students were suspended for a violation of team and Athletic Department policies,” Zalot said, but she declined to comment further.
RESPONSES TO SGA’S DECISION
After SGA announced that it would cancel the transportation to the football game, students mobilized to fund their own bus, which left from the Alfond Apartments at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday. Maloney noted that SGA’s decision-making process was influenced by the fact that she and Rouse had not heard anything from the Athletic Department in terms of addressing the issue during Saturday’s game, and this made them uncomfortable.
“We thought that the players in question should not have been practicing and should be benched for the game due to the seriousness of the pending allegations,” Maloney said. “We informally heard some action was going to be taken on Thursday night, but they were still rumors. It was not confirmed until Friday afternoon.”
However, “if we had known that there would have been unofficial actions taken against members of the team beforehand by coaches and the Athletic Department, we would have kept the buses going,” Rouse and Maloney said.
Rouse and Maloney emphasized that SGA’s decision stemmed from the nature of the allegations and was not targeting the football team as a whole. “The students and SGA in this situation are able to act a little bit quicker [than the administration] in terms of what we felt we needed to do morally, ethically here, and that was cancel the buses, given the seriousness of what was being accused. Our goal was to take issue with alleged actions of members of the football team. The football team in general is not to be blamed with this,” Rouse said.
“Absolutely not to be blamed,” Maloney echoed, emphasizing that she and Rouse are “explicitly against” students protesting against the entire football team. “It’s like any group of people…and in that group of people you may have people who make bad decisions,” Rouse said. “That doesn’t mean the whole group is bad. Just because somebody has a Colby football sweatshirt on doesn’t mean they should be getting dirty looks in the library.”
Though some students had planned to travel to Saturday’s game in protest of the silence surrounding the allegations of assault, Rouse and Maloney discouraged such actions. SGA’s decision to cancel the buses has raised concern over how issues of misconduct should be handled with regard to other campus organizations.
According to John Iseman ’13, the decision “shows an incredible lack of consideration for the ramifications of their actions and an overzealous desire to please certain outspoken students,” as posted on the Civil Discourse on Friday, Nov. 11.
Iseman played on the football team during his first two years on the Hill before quitting due to injury.
In his post, Iseman cited the size of the football team—which is comprised of 69 players, according to the 2011 roster—as one of the reasons why he did not support SGA’s decision. “I find it hard to believe that all of them were involved in the wrongdoing that has resulted in a flurry of rumors and the cancellation of the support buses,” he wrote. “It is more likely that just a few members of the team were involved.”
Iseman also criticized SGA for holding “entire organizations accountable for the actions of one or a few of its members” and for “punishing” people before the administration took action. “I don’t see [SGA] as a judicial body at all. I see them more as a legislative body,” Iseman said in an interview with the Echo. “I just think that they’re not qualified to listen to witness testimony and use discernment and see where the truth really is and dole out a fair punishment….[SGA is] not law enforcement, they’re not trained to do that.”
Since the bus was an SGA-operated initiative, SGA members had the right to cancel it, Rouse and Maloney explained. “In this case, the bus was a completely separate decision,” Maloney said. “It was SGA on its own deciding to sponsor the fan bus….This was our reward [to the team] to show our support, and we felt like we had complete control over it.”
Iseman also disapproved of SGA “holding an entire organization responsible for the actions of a member in a setting that is outside that group’s normal setting or niche.” He said, “It wasn’t like the football team did something horrible on the field or even in the weight room or something like that. This was a student that did something horrible that just so happened to be on the football team, and the football team is getting punished for it.”
Rouse emphasized that SGA handled the situation in this manner given its severity. “I think there are two important things here that distinguish this from a future situation, and that is that these are serious, serious allegations, and allegations that allegedly involve more than one person,” Rouse said. “If there were a club or a sports team on this campus that was ever accused of doing this, or something similar, I think every organization that has worked with them, and the administration, as well, needs to consider how that group is viewed on campus. I think it’s always important to have a campus-wide conversation, dialogue and debate about these issues when they arise.”
As stated in his post on the Discourse, Iseman did not write to “defend or support the actions of accused members of the football team.” “I don’t know the details of what happened, but if guys on the team were involved in sexual harassment, then they should be punished accordingly,” he said. “But I mean, to lay it down on the team as a whole I think is unfair.”
While Iseman has spoken with some of his former teammates, “even amongst themselves they’re not talking about it all that much,” he said. “It’s really hitting them hard….They’re really bummed because they’re walking around wearing their Colby football gear, which they should be proud to wear, but instead they’re getting the cold shoulder from the whole campus.”
Despite the mixed feedback from those on the Hill, Rouse and Maloney emphasized that SGA is always receptive to hearing their peers’ viewpoints. “When SGA does something and people are upset about it, we want them to know that they can always contact us and reach out to us and talk to us,” Rouse said.