Update from President Sarah Bolton on Facebook, Beall Ave. Concerns

Sent to campus on Jan. 18

January 18, 2018   /  

President Sarah Bolton has just sent the following email to all students, faculty, and staff at The College of Wooster:

Dear Wooster Community,

I write today to update you on recent events, and to share some of the actions being taken by students, faculty, and staff to move the College forward. The College of Wooster has a fundamental responsibility to equity; we must be a place where all students, staff, and faculty can live, learn, work, and thrive without fear or discrimination.  While equity was a founding commitment of our College, we know that we have not yet realized this crucial promise.

On Saturday, we became aware that a student had made appalling, racist Facebook postings; the College’s investigation of this matter began immediately and is ongoing. We understand the community’s frustration, deep concern, and desire for a resolution. We are committed to the safety of all members of the community, to conducting a thorough and fair process that respects the rights and confidentiality of all involved, and to completing it as promptly as possible.

On Sunday night, more than 300 students, staff, and faculty came to Lowry to talk about the profound harm these postings caused, a harm magnified by the daily racism and discrimination experienced by people of color. I am profoundly grateful for all those who came out to be a part of this important conversation, and for the honesty with which so many shared their experiences as well as their ideas for ways that we can, and must, do better.

One of the issues discussed on Sunday night was physical safety. As we have shared with the community over the course of the fall term, there have been multiple incidents of harassment and violence from passing cars on Beall Avenue, at least some of which were racially targeted. This is completely unacceptable, and we are committed to addressing it as fully and quickly as possible. Over winter break, Chief of Security and Protective Services Steve Glick has been working with College staff and the City of Wooster to strengthen both deterrence of, and response to, such incidents on Beall. Here are several updates on that work, which is continuing:

  • Effective today, the City of Wooster Police Department will regularly patrol Beall Avenue, partnering with our Security and Protective Services officers. The police officers, with their arrest powers, can immediately intervene in any harassment from passing cars.
  • The cameras on Beall Avenue have allowed identification of the vehicle responsible for the BB, paintball, and thrown-object assaults on Beall last term. The investigation by the Wooster City Police is moving forward using this information.
  • The IT systems for the existing cameras have been upgraded, improving their function. They should now allow us to read license plates in most circumstances. Additional camera systems are also being ordered for Beall, Gault Schoolhouse, and several other areas on campus.
  • College staff are meeting with the City of Wooster to discuss lighting and signage improvements on Beall to increase the safety of those moving at night and also to actively deter harassment.

Additional improvements in lighting and staffing are also in process, based on conversations last semester and over the past week. These focus on safety and on ensuring that those moving around campus at night have good options for routes and for assistance.

A second issue raised on Sunday was cultural competency – the ways that education for all community members plays a crucial role in creating an equitable and inclusive campus, and in preparing students for life after Wooster. The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan that was developed last year and enacted starting this fall also addressed this question. We committed to effective educational programs for all staff, students, and faculty, based on their particular roles on campus. Those programs are being implemented, starting this year and in an ongoing way. Topics include cultural competency, implicit bias, equitable practice, and others. Many groups (first-year students, RAs, New Student Orientation Leaders, the Board of Trustees, the President’s cabinet, all Student Affairs staff, all Human Resources staff) have already participated in one or more trainings this year. Programs for all faculty and department-specific programs are in progress, and we will make additional plans based on the conversations we are having with you about what is most needed.

The work we are doing is far from complete, as the recent days demonstrate so clearly. Indeed, it has never been more urgent or more important. Thank you to all who are working to make Wooster stronger.

Sarah Bolton