Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College

Campus Life

Fire Safety, Loneliness, Homecoming and Sexual Misconduct Communication: Another Day in the Dean's Office

Posted on September 30, 2013

Can't resist a nice patch of grass

September 30, 2013

Welcome to the first d-Log of the year.  For those of you new to the community, the d-Log is my occasional communication to Wheaton students where I ask questions, explain things, share concerns, celebrate accomplishments and occasionally kvetch.  I post each d-Log on the Dean of Students website, so there’s an archive you can review if you ever need some light reading.  After a d-Log is posted, I send an email to your Wheaton account and let you know it’s there.  From that point, it’s up to you either to click on the link and read the fascinating things I have to say, delete the email without another thought, or roll your eyes, forward it to your parents and tell them to let you know if there’s anything you should be aware of.


In today’s d-Log, I’d like to cover a few topics:

  • What’s up with the increase in fire code violation fines?
  • What to do if you feel like you’re not quite jibing with the social life here at Wheaton.
  • Why we send out emergency alerts at some times and not at other times.


If any of these sound interesting, keep reading.  If not, send me a note suggesting what you’d like me to write about.  I’m nothing if not accommodating.


But before I get to the list, can I just say that these perfect fall days are a daily reminder of why I love living in New England?  And is there a better way to spend days like this than sitting on the new furniture outside Balfour-Hood drinking one of those thousand-calorie caramel macchiato drinks you love so much, or watching our women’s tennis team crush their competition?  Or catching a field hockey or soccer or rugby match on our beautiful new turf field?  Or watching the squirrels on the Dimple dig through the grass for the nuts they’ll need to make it through a long Massachusetts winter?  (Does anyone else get a little freaked out by how fearless our squirrels are?  Shouldn’t they be more afraid of humans?)  I’m reminded of the line from the poem “September 1918” in which Amy Lowell describes a fall scene as “The colour of water falling through sunlight.”  Indeed.


So first up on the list:  fire code violation fines.  I’ll be the first to admit that this is partly a Lee-driven issue.  According to the Center for Campus Fire Safety, there have been 83 fatal fires on college campuses since 2000, with 120 lives lost.  In many cases, these were started by unattended candles, cooking accidents and general carelessness.  Some were arson.  When you think about it, that’s actually not a lot of fatal fires.  There are 4000 colleges and universities in the U.S., so you might think there would be a lot more.  Actually, there are plenty of fires, but few fatalities, because colleges are held to a very high standard of fire safety protection.  Residence halls have sprinklers, smoke detectors, numerous fire extinguishers and fire doors, all required by building codes.  Residence halls are actually among the safest places you can be in terms of fires if…


IF.  Really big if.  If the smoke detectors and sprinklers and fire doors are used.  If they are disabled, well, they might as well not even be there.  And last year, that happened too often.  During health and safety inspections, it was discovered that some students were covering up or disabling their smoke detectors.  I wonder why.  But I don’t really care as much about that.  I care that the smoke detectors would not be able to perform their single function—alert people to the presence of smoke—and because of that, the  students who might be injured or worse.  Therefore, to discourage this very obvious disregard for the safety of others, a student who disables a smoke detector or sprinkler or fire extinguisher in any way will be fined $500.  If you have a problem with that, please come and tell me why you think it’s not really that big a deal to disable your smoke detector.


About the Wheaton social life:  As some of you might know, we have a Facebook page for your parents, and they weigh in on all sorts of things.  A week or so ago, there was a post that generated about 70 comments in which parents discussed their concerns that their children (that would be you) had not found the right group of friends yet, that some of you were reporting to them that everyone here drinks, and since you don’t, you don’t have anything to do.  Okay, so I had parents once, and I know that not everything we tell our folks is the exact truth…or maybe even close.  But let’s assume that some of you do feel that way.  Here’s what I want you to know:


You are not the only one.  Honest.  It’s just that those who choose a less alcohol-focused path tend to be less noticeable than those who like to drink excessively.  Perhaps you’ve noticed this.  So it can take a bit more effort to find and make friends with those people.


But here’s another thing to consider:  making friends in general takes time.  I think some students come to college with a romanticized view of the social experience, that you will immediately develop an intimate social circle that is the equivalent of the one you left behind at home.  That doesn’t happen.  If you left behind good friends, people you really miss, I would venture to guess that those relationships formed over extended time—months, maybe years.  You can’t hurry that up here.  There are no shortcuts to friendship (not even ice-breakers, which are really just shortcuts to introductions, not relationships).  You have to put in the time.  You might go your whole first year, in fact, meeting people and trying out some new friendships without finding the ones you’ll want to keep forever.  I’ve heard from a number of seniors and alums that they didn’t make their closest friends till later in their Wheaton careers.  Don’t choose your friends based on proximity.  Look beyond your floor.  Choose them based on integrity and shared interests.  And don’t give up.  Go to events, even if you have to go alone. Or invite someone to go, rather than wait for someone to invite you (since that person may also be waiting for an invitation).    Make it a goal to introduce yourself to one other person a week.  That’s all—just introduce yourself.  Eventually, you’ll find the people you click with.  And if that’s not working, come see me and I’ll introduce you to one another, because, as I said, you are not the only one.  Hear me?  You are not.


Let me interrupt my preaching to mention some upcoming events.  Homecoming is just around the corner.  At Wheaton, Homecoming is not just for alumnae/i.  It’s actually the same date as Family Weekend, so we have a lot of great activities for alums, families and, yes, you.   You can find a link to the actual schedule here, but I’d like to recommend the Indie Arts Fest and foodtrucks on Saturday afternoon, ABC correspondent John Quinones on Saturday night, and singer/songwriter Lizzie Camlin-Irving that night at the Lyons Den (after your parents have gone to bed).  If you’ve never heard Lizzie, a recent Wheaton alum, perform, you’re in for a great show.  From there, head to the Chapel for Mr. Wheaton, an event that the original Mrs. Wheaton might not have approved of.  We’ll also be dedicating Nordin Field at 12:45 Saturday afternoon, which will be followed by a field hockey game.  Other athletic events include men’s and women’s tennis and alumnae/i games for both lacrosse teams.


A (hopefully)beautiful fall weekend, a campus full of freshly-planted mums, smiling faces all around:  this is the stuff of which great college memories are made.  Get out and make some.


Last topic:  This is a response to some questions I’ve gotten about why Wheaton sends out text messages about some things and not other things.  It’s pretty straightforward, really, and partly the result of a conversation that a number of us had with you last semester in Hindle Auditorium.


If we (the college, specifically Public Safety) believe that there is an imminent threat to student safety for any reason, we utilize the text alert system (ConnectEd) immediately.  This would be the case if, for example,  we thought there was an individual still at large who might harm you, or a severe weather event was about to hit us.  The key word is imminent, as in “something bad might happen at this moment, and your best bet is to be informed.”


We do not send out text alerts immediately after a crime has been alleged on campus unless that “imminent threat” exists.  But when we talked in Hindle, you expressed concern about some crimes, specifically, in that conversation, sexual assault, that you believed were important to notify the campus about after the fact.  We agreed to do that.  But here’s the thing:  if the threat to you is not imminent, the text alert might not be immediate.  If we have no reason to believe you are at risk (from the individual named in the complaint), we then have two other priorities:  the well-being of the individual who has made the complaint and the integrity of the investigative process.  For the former, we want to make sure that the person who has made the complaint is comfortable with a public announcement—even one that is completely anonymous--going out, and has a chance to speak with family or friends ahead of time, because on a small campus, it is impossible to know who will say or know what about an incident.  For the latter, it’s to make sure that if there is to be a criminal investigation by either Norton Police or Public Safety, that we do not compromise their ability to do that investigation in any way.


So our obligations are, in this order:  your safety (including the person who may have been assaulted), the investigatory process, and communication.  And this is why you might not get word that a report has been made until a day or two after the fact.  Keep in mind that it may also be possible that the report was not made immediately after the incident.  But we will still share what we can as soon as we can.  We promised you in Hindle, and continue to promise you, transparency in our actions related to sexual misconduct, and we’re committed to just that:  transparency.  But we also need, as a community, to balance transparency with privacy, openness with discretion, fairness with swift response.  These are very, very difficult things to balance.  I hope you will trust that we work hard to achieve that balance.
If you ever have suggestions about how we can do better on this or, really, anything, you know how to reach me.  I am (almost) always happy to meet with you to discuss your concerns:  one-on-one, in a small group, or, as I think you know, in front of a large group.  I’ll bring my colleagues, I’ll spring for punch and cookies, we’ll talk, learn, and leave feeling better about Wheaton, I hope.


Keep in touch.  See you around the Dimple.



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