By Melissa Boyd (Whetstone, staff writer)
Wesley student Myeisha Hardy was just having a fun end to her Homecoming weekend when she walked through the North Plaza Oct. 5 and found hundreds of people, Wesley and non-Wesley students, fighting or watching.
“I don’t know what the protocol is for breaking up fights, but I know the pepper spray was sprayed into the air,” she said. “I was unhappy with the way things unfolded because, instead of spraying at individual students, it was sprayed in the air. I choked that night.”
The fights began during and shortly after a dance, sponsored by Black Student Union (BSU) and Alpha Phi Omega (APO).
Walt Beaupre, director of safety and security, said Wesley has never experienced a situation like this past Homecoming weekend in the seven years he’s worked at Wesley.
“There were a few fights that broke out, involving several different individuals, most of whom we believe were not Wesley students,” he said. “One Wesley student was arrested earlier in the evening and she will go through our campus judicial system.”
Beaupre said several non-Wesley students came onto the campus because of a message that was posted on the internet.
“Someone posted a message that there was a Wesley College Homecoming Party in the Wentworth Gymnasium with FREE admission as long as you had a college ID,” he said. “This posting resulted in hundreds of non-Wesley students coming on to our campus.”
Resident Assistant Isnara St. Phard said she felt the situation could have been handled differently.
“We need to have a serious conversation about how to handle situations like that if that ever occurs again,” she said. “I felt in danger trying to break up the fights that security wouldn’t.”
She also said she thought a notification should have been sent to students, mentioning the Clery Act, which is a federal law that requires all colleges and universities to alert their students if there is thought to be an ongoing threat or danger.
The Clery Act also requires colleges and universities to keep a daily crime log, which can be viewed by any student who requests it in the security office, keep crime statistics, and file an accurate annual security report.
Failure to do so can result in the college paying large fines. The most recent and well-known example of a failure to issue timely warnings was a $55,000 fine to Virginia Tech for failing to alert students on the on-going threat.
“I reported to a security officer that I thought a member involved in the fight had a gun,” St. Phard said. “That officer looked at me like I was crazy.”
Beaupre said the security officers who were on duty that night told him none of them had observed a gun and no one reported to them that someone had a gun.
“We don’t send notifications out to students unless there is an ongoing threat,” he said. “Fights aren’t included in that. Guns, of course, are included in that. If they [the security officers] had a student report to them that there was a gun, they would have dealt with the situation and alerted the campus community.”
Beaupre also said he thought there could have been better guidance to the organizations that had planned and ran the dance (BSU and APO).
BSU President Kyle Pequeno said he didn’t think the fights were a direct result of the dance.
“There were crowds being formed on Saturday at the beginning of the dance,” he said. “But where the problems started arising were students upset about how security officers and event staff were treating students.”
He said that BSU denied entrance to drunk or high students or non-students.
“They [drunk or high students] weren’t allowed in,” he said. “By 10:30 or 11, we were ready to shut the dance down because it was too much to handle. We were checking student IDs when they came in, but around 10:30, two of the event staff told me that too many people were getting in that were not Wesley students.”
He said after that point, the two event staff handled the IDs.
“Around 11, a crowd of about 60 students were jammed in the den in front of the Wolverine Stop,” he said. “We had no help from advisers for this event because Dr. James [BSU adviser] was away at a conference and I believe security took advantage of us having no adults to help out when it started getting uncontrollable.”
However, Safety and Security Shift Supervisor Angie Fowler said there were several exceptions.
“Students were coming into our office telling us certain people without photo IDs were allowed to come in,” she said. “It’s a safety issue and you put people in danger by not following protocol.”
Hardy said she had gone to the dance.
“People were allowed into the dance with liquor bottles,” she said.
President William Johnston said he heard about Saturday night the next morning.
“I was concerned about the safety of our students,” he said. “We’ll take new measures for future events so students can still have appropriate events while remaining safe.”
Kevin Hansbury, director of residence life, is working on new measures for dormitory safety, including the possibility of changing R.A. responsibilities. These changes were being discussed prior to the fights.
“R.A’s are not security officers and we do not expect them to be,” he said, after several R.A.s admitted to trying to break up fights during a Town Hall meeting Oct. 9. “We need to continue to discuss this plan moving forward so that everyone is comfortable with the process we ultimately implement.”
In addition, Dean of Students Wanda Anderson encouraged students to sign up for a safety and security committee during the town hall meeting. If students are still interested in signing up, they can stop by the Student Affairs office.