On September 27, Sally Walker, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, sent an email to Albion College students, staff and faculty regarding a Student Handbook policy update for allegations of a threat of violence against others.
In the email, Walker said it was sent “out of an abundance of caution and in light of the current tension nationwide on college campuses.” In the first month of the semester, Albion College has had multiple incidents occur on campus, from a swastika on a bathroom wall to a demonstration protesting a Google document that had what demonstrators referred to as “racist and violent remarks.”
“People are people. In the heat of the moment, people can say something and they didn’t really mean it, and they’ll backtrack and apologize,” said Walker in an interview. “But really now is the time to learn not to say it to begin with.”
The changes to the process are within what Walker calls the “threat assessment” step. Previously, the student that allegedly issued the threat may have been retained on campus for a 24-hour period with restrictions as to where they could go on campus and who they could talk to. Now, Walker says, the student will be off campus for a minimum of 48 hours to determine whether the student “poses an immediate threat to anyone in our college community.”
Once the threat assessment is completed, the college then moves to the judicial process. As Walker collects information given to her from Campus Safety, she will determine if the student needs to be removed from campus for an extended period of time beyond the 48 hours. The process will not happen overnight, Walker says, but she wants to treat each case as if it’s just an alleged threat.
“I don’t treat someone as if they’re responsible. I treat them as if they’re managing an alleged violation, and they may be found responsible,” said Walker. “They may be found not responsible, and we’re very careful with that. You’re not found responsible for violating college policy until a hearing has occurred and hearing officers find you responsible.”
According to the Student Handbook, the vice president for student affairs, which is Walker, has the authority and responsibility for administering the judicial process. Along with Walker, the college judicial coordinators, the college judicial board and the college hearing officers seek to provide a judicial process that “educates students as to their rights and responsibilities as members of the Albion College community, holds students accountable, and encourages students to recognize their obligations to themselves, their peers, and to society as a whole.” A more detailed description is outlined on page 60 of the Student Handbook.
Walker isn’t the only one who has noticed the tensions among our campus and others across the country. Albion College President Mauri Ditzler feels that physical threats have become more common, and the policy isn’t a response to a one-time event.
“Policies that are in response to a single event are usually bad policies,” he said. “This particular policy has to do with threats of violence and comes about because of my observations and others that, right now, in our society — because we’re all products of our society — there is a tendency to move quickly to physical threats in a way I don’t remember seeing 10 years ago.”
While violence is something to be concerned about in and of itself, Ditzler is also concerned with its impact on conversations and educations. While we’re free to express our beliefs and opinions, Ditzler feels that as physical threats become more common, these opinions may not be voiced as frequently.
“The new policy is a way of reminding all of us that we don’t make threats on campus,” said Ditzler. “I think the message it’s sending is that we take threats seriously because they might lead to violence, but what’s equally problematic is they might silence others opinions, and we don’t want that to happen.”
Photo by Steve Marowski