Continued from yesterday, here is the second administration-centered interview on Tour de Franzia (henceforth marked as TDF), this time with Dean Mike Whaley, Vice President of Student Affairs. It’s pretty damn long, and so I’m just going to jump into it, but before that I want to note two things:
(1) Zach and I conducted this interview on the morning of Spring Fling, so when we tell this story we like saying “We pregamed Spring Fling with Mike Whaley.” Technically, that’s not an inaccurate statement, but there were no drinkies, so maybe it is. But that’s only if you’re being particular about the definition of pregaming.
(2) When we were conducting the interview, the dean had ambient, meditative/trance music going on in the background. This compelled, at least for me, a sleep-inducing lull that resulted in a lack of coherence, and so the conversation went in a mostly roundabout fashion. What follows is not the natural conversation as it happened, but a selective reorganization of the transcript. We assure you, however, that nothing whatsoever is misrepresented.
Read on for Dean Mike Whaley’s thoughts on administrative tactics to stop Tour de Franzia, possible wrongful SJB charges filed against students, and whether or not Public Safety is planning to use video footage to identify students on 4/20. For previous Franzia coverage, see emails from various administrators, Public Safety’s “Awareness Report,” and video footage by Wespook.
General Questions on TDF
What were the differences in the way you guys treated the event from last year?
After we continued to see a lot of problems and issues last year with the tour, we began talking with WSA members and other student groups about possible approaches to the Tour since the beginning of fall semester. As I indicated in the email I sent before Spring Break, a lot of different suggestions came up. People were like, “Oh, can you manage it like you manage Spring Fling?,” and the problematic aspect of that is that the Tour is inherently illegal and unsafe. Whenever you have a team of five or six people trying to run around and suck down five liters of Franzia in a very short period of time, that’s dangerous. So that didn’t seem like an alternative.
You guys once covered the Tufts Naked Quad Run and how Tufts ended that, and we talked about that option.
What do you mean “that option”?
Tufts decided that they would immediately suspend anybody who was involved in it, with notice about the ramifications sent to the campus community ahead of time. I decided that I did not want to take that step because I think it’s really only a last resort. It may be that we have to get there—I hope we don’t—so instead we decided to do what I did, which is write a letter to the campus community articulating what our concerns were about the event and asking the student body not to participate.
Could you elaborate more on why you didn’t pull the nuclear option?
I think it would be very different to implement that, and I think that it would pit students against the administration in trying to promote student safety, which I think is a dynamic that we don’t want.
An email was also sent out to parents. What’s up with that?
The goal was for parents who shared the same set of concerns to be able have a conversation with their kids during Spring Break or at some point afterwards.
How would you respond to students who might have found it somewhat condescending to have to appeal to our parents?
I don’t really have a response to that. I sent the parents pretty much the same notice that I sent you. If people felt offended by that, I’m sorry, I think they kind of need to get over it. I mean, it wasn’t like I devised a whole other message in secret to parents.
On Unjust Rulings and Regulations
We’ve heard about some cases where students that were not actively participating in the event still felt that they were targeted by the administration. How would you respond to that concern?
Many of those students weren’t even documented, I believe. I saw quite a few students that I knew out and about who were sober, some of whom were trying to intervene—like Peer Health Advocates, WSA Leadership, etc. I don’t think that any of those students were charged.
Do you believe that there were any wrongful charges filed?
I think if there have been, then those will hopefully be illuminated during the hearings.
Do you think that there’s anything problematic about students receiving SJB summons without concrete evidence of wrong-doing in certain cases?
I think students shouldn’t be sanctioned if they weren’t violating university policies. SJB charges are like “anybody can sue anybody for anything at any time,” but you have to prove it in court. There may have been people who were incorrectly charged, but I think that’s why we have hearings and don’t just issue sanctions in a drive-by window or something.
What was the role of ResLife?
We felt that ResLife should really be focused on the RAs in the residence halls and preventing any kinds of damage or mayhem from happening in people’s living spaces. And so we did not ask the RAs and so forth to be out and about, trying to manage the event. The number of staff members on duty was doubled up just to deal with any potential problems…
With or without monetary compensation?
Being on call is part of an RA’s job. So, they were doubled up and there wasn’t any monetary compensation for that.
So ResLife staff was specifically intended to ensure that RAs were in their residences and not out and about?
The RAs that were on call, yes. It wasn’t that no RAs couldn’t be anywhere else that night—it was just that the coverage was doubled in the residence halls. But we asked them to essentially stay in their residences, and deal with any issues that come up there.
From speaking with a number of RAs—both who were and were not on duty that night—we found that there was a sense that they were compelled, perhaps implicitly, to actually go out and help regulate. Something that was brought up by an RA was the sense that if an RA was seen walking outside—even just moving from one place to another—if you did not actively try and help write people up they would be at risk of losing their jobs. Have you heard of this?
I don’t think that that’s the case. Residential Life—and you can check up with them on this—sent out a notice to all RAs telling them that they should not participate in the tour, and if they did participate in the tour, then ResLife would reconsider their job. That’s the only thing that I know was communicated to them. If they got a different impression, then I think that needs to be cleared up, obviously.
On Open Containers
How do you define an open container in a situation like TDF? Where do you draw the line?
My view—and this is only my view and I don’t sit on the SJB—is that by the nature of Franzia, you don’t typically leave the tap or spigot open. So, if folks are running around with a bag of Franzia and then stopping and drinking at different locations, I think that falls into a violation of the Open Container Policy. If they were carrying around the box and it was sealed, that would be a different story.
Do you have to observe the student opening the container and drinking for it to be a violation?
I don’t think that that’s necessary. You can argue technicalities, but if any of us just stands back and looks at the general landscape of what was happening that night, I think that any group that was running around with a bladder of wine, whether they were observed specifically drinking at a specific time or not, is an Open Container Violation.
What would your message be to students who were not written up or did not commit any property damage but simply participated and were over age, who felt like they weren’t being irresponsible, that they just wanted to have some fun on a Friday night?
I don’t think it was impossible for somebody who is of age to be drinking responsibly in the backyards of Fountain. I think that’s completely plausible.
Which is permissible with the Open Container Policy, is that correct?
It is. Technically, the event should be registered, but it is technically possible. I don’t have issue with that. The issue that I’m most concerned about is high-risk drinking on campus, because it puts people in jeopardy and it results in very real harms. Tour de Franzia is in essence a big organized drinking game, so in that way it is different from hanging out and drinking with some friends. It’s a very different kind of animal that fosters and facilitates drinking in a high-risk way.
I’m worried because at some point, we’re going to have a tragedy on our hands. Just because of the dynamic of the event. And I would prefer not to have to get there.
On Video Cameras
My understanding is that PSafe feels that the camera is a deterrent. I don’t personally subscribe to that. I think it sets up a dynamic among the students that I don’t necessarily think is helpful. I don’t work for Public Safety, but it’s a conversation I’ve had before with [Director of Public Safety] Dave Meyer. I think that in some circumstances, it is helpful to have video footage…
What circumstances, for example?
I’m thinking back to the Fountain Avenue incident, five or six years ago. It was helpful for us who were looking at it in the aftermath to have some video footage about what PSafe and students were doing, what the atmosphere was like, because we weren’t there. I don’t think it’s particularly useful for identifying people.
PSafe has said publicly that they intend to use to identify people. Do you think that’s true?
They took videos and photos during 4/20, and all of us have been looking at the pictures trying to identify the students in them and see if they were violating policy. So, with specific reference to smoking pot on the hill, we look at the pictures…
But there were a lot of people on the hill that day just with their friends and not doing anything illegal.
[Sarcastically] Shocking! No, I know that, sorry.
So do you make distinctions with the photos, or…
We get specific photographs from PSafe that accompany their reports, saying that—for example—“The Person in the Blue” in the middle of this picture was smoking, and then we address them. They didn’t take IDs. I would have preferred them to take IDs. I think that’s easier than trying to figure out who the person in blue is from a picture, because I don’t know every student.
On a Recent Wespeak
There was a recent Wespeak in the Argus from a student who claims that she was forced to go to the hospital by PSafe and that she was conscious and fully able to take care of herself. She reports that she felt like she was forcefully taken to the hospital against her will.
So, I don’t think that her argument has much merit. And the reason is because… about halfway through her article, she wrote that when she woke up at the hospital the next morning, her blood alcohol level was still above .08, which is the legal level of intoxication. That’s about, say, six to seven hours after she was transported to the hospital. Assuming that she didn’t drink when she was at the hospital, it doesn’t take much know-how and math to calculate what her blood alcohol level was at the time of transport. And despite her assertion that she was fully functional and able to take care of herself, I would bet that she had potentially lethal alcohol level at the time of her transported. So I’m glad she was transported.
Does Public Safety have any specific criteria for forcefully transporting students to the hospital?
We should be careful here. PSafe calls the ambulance, and the ambulance folks make the determination about whether or not somebody goes. PSafe officers are generally not EMTs, but their protocol is that if they see a student about whom they are concerned, they call the ambulance folks and they make the assessment.
But they are forcefully detaining the students.
Well, that’s a liability issue. If I see you and I think you’re in trouble because you have had too much to drink, and I say, “Well, you go off and whatever,” that puts me in the hot seat. Of course they have to detain somebody to be assessed.
We also received reports of an arrest that happened during Tour de Franzia. Can you speak at all about the nature of that?
The incident was that the student who was arrested by the police was interfering with the officers. And I think it relates to the situation we spoke about earlier.
At what point did the police get involved?
Any time Public Safety feels like they are unable to control a particular situation or whatnot, they would call the police for backup.
Let’s say, hypothetically, if the event could in some way be self-policed, and if excessive intake could be avoided and property damage limited if not eliminated completely, with its inherent illegality, how would your stance on TDF change?
I think it would still be problematic simply because of its very illegality. So long as we want federal funds for research and financial aid, we’re supposed to make a reasonable effort to enforce the alcohol and drug policies that we have.
Now I don’t think we’re a police state, and I’m not advocating that we become one, but I think in a court of law if something bad happens, I need to be able to stand up and say, “Here are the reasonable steps that we took to enforce our policies.” So if we know of an event where there is a mass breaking of the policy, and something bad materializes from that, then I still want to be able to say “Yeah, we knew that was happening, and this is what we did to try to stop it.”
So, we have a situation where there is a sentiment among some students who want to drink, have fun, and go a little crazy on the weekends that fuels the sentiment that the more the administration wants to shut TDF down for good, the more they are going to want to prove themselves and make it happen. What comes out of this is a very antagonistic power relationship. How you respond to that dynamic?
I would simply say to them that my primary concern is not to lose any students. I think that the way the Tour is organized… I’m not necessarily out banging on doors to catch frosh who’s having a beer in the room, you know? But I am concerned about this event because, by its nature, it’s so high risk. We shouldn’t have to end the thing, but we don’t want students with their judgment impaired to get run over by a car.
How cohesive are all the different administrative departments in handling TDF?
A fairly good degree, I think. We’ve all talked about this starting last fall in our staff meetings, and especially after Spring Break, we would have meetings every other week just to talk about where we were and to brainstorm solutions and interventions and so forth. I can’t be responsible necessarily for what a specific RA hears when I don’t communicate with them directly, and even then we may need to clarify, but I feel fairly confident that all the professional staff in student affairs—ResLife, Student Activities, Usdan, Chaplains even—understood what was going on.
Do the administrators use the ACB?
There are some of us who check it occasionally. I don’t personally because I find the whole thing incredibly offensive and mean-spirited. So I don’t go unless there’s a specific reason to do so. But there are a couple of administrators who do check in on it from time to time.
Do they find it as soul-sucking as the rest of us do?
It feels like in this position, you would have to repeat yourself every three or four years or so. It feels like, with the message you’re trying to get across, the logic might be there for somebody who’s sat through the entire process with you, but when they graduate and a new batch comes in, it seems that you would have to restart the cycle. Does that ever get difficult for you?
Yes, there is some of that. A recent example of this is when the WSA had the chalking discussion recently. They asked me to come just to go over the narrative of how we got to the ban—of course, it was just my narrative, and there were many other narratives about it that exist. And it was very apparent that most of the students who were there weren’t very clear about how we got to the ban, or simply haven’t heard it before, or heard it before accurately.
One of the bigger narratives that came out of this entire thing is that there was a feeling that there was present a subtle move to play students off each other. I’m assuming it’s probably not the case that the administration intended for an antagonism to develop between certain demographics of students—for example, students RAs against those who participated in the tour—but it seems like this year’s push back from the administration created something of a hostile student environment at the end of the day. How would you respond to that?
I think that any time something happens on campus, there are some students who might be concerned about it. And we have ethos here at Wesleyan where… maybe it springs from our embracing of diversity and multiculturalism, where we think we should let people be who they are—and I don’t disagree with that—but sometimes I think that notion gets mutated into, “We need to tolerate whatever anybody else in our community feels like they want to do.” And I don’t agree with that.
There’s a new program that Health Services and Health Education are developing called the “Bystander Intervention Program,” and that’s all about teaching students to have the skills to intervene when they feel like somebody’s drinking too much, or when they feel like there’s a student who’s impaired who’s being led off into an intimate location by another student, and someone else should say, “Wait a minute.” I think that part of our role is to encourage people to speak out and to take care of each other, instead of saying, “I’m not going to intervene, it’s not my business.” I mean, this is a dynamic you see all across our culture as well. Like, somebody gets stabbed and they lay on the street for hours before anybody goes to get assistance. So I think that’s a tough societal dynamic, and I think it’s a dynamic that’s not good for us, I think we do have to watch out for each other, and so any chance we get to interrupt that or suggest a different path, I think it’s worth it.
So I think there were some students who were not participating in the Tour, who I know, who were there like I was watching it, who were trying to intervene when people decided it would be fun to start kicking a fence. And so I stepped in and I said, “Come on, you don’t need to destroy that.” I would like for more students to step in and say that.
What’s your stance on the drinking age?
So, during the time I was in college—it was in Cornell—the drinking age in New York went up. It was frustrating at the time, because I was 17 when I first arrived. And then at one point it went up to 19, so I was like legal and then not legal, then not legal again, etc. New York did this crazy thing where they pushed the age up from 18 to 19 and then to 21 with no grandfathering. So it was frustrating.
I drink alcohol, and I think I drink it responsibly. I don’t like Franzia, for a whole bunch of different reasons. So I think it’s an interesting issue. MADD is the reason why we have this 21-year–old drinking age in most places, and then there was this Amethyst Initiative that surfaced in the last five years or so about dropping it back to 18. So I don’t know, I don’t think that it’s realistic.
If you could go to war and vote, you should be able to drink. But the law of the land is the law of the land, and I think so long as there are Mothers against Drunk Driving and other concerned people, I don’t think we’re going to go back to 18.
Just by virtue of your role—which often runs against students’ intentions to have fun—you often occupy the space of playing the “bad cop” role in the student hive-mind. Is this a fair statement?
I think some students think that. Fortunately for me, I also have a lot of positive interactions with students from a bunch of different things. So to me, all of that stuff balances out. And I’ll accept criticism—when I come from a place where I express that I am concerned about a certain behavior, I’ll accept criticism that comes my way then. It’s just fortunate that that’s not the only role I play.
I’m the person who looks at student life and student culture on campus, and I identify some of the really great things about it, and I also identify its areas of concern. And the great things are little celebratory things, and so nobody pays attention except for the person being celebrated. But that’s all the positive stuff that happens. What you all care about, mostly, is when I step out and say: “You know what, folks? This thing that you’re doing is really dangerous and I think you shouldn’t do it.” That’s the time when I have to take a stand that might be in opposition to what students should be able to do, but I’m comfortable taking that stand, because I care.
I don’t have this job because I want to ruin people’s fun. Part of why I have it is because I want to keep you safe when you’re here.
What is President Roth’s role in all this? Does he have specific ideas and positions on how TDF should be dealt with, and what is your view of his role in this?
He and I talk about issues like this a lot; we do talk about the Tour a lot. I meet with him every other week, where I share with him things that I’ve been hearing throughout the week, possible interventions that we could take. I think that he’s really concerned about it for the same reasons that I am.
He really loves being president, and I think he really celebrates the students in so many ways, and he acknowledges that there are things that students do sometimes that really put them at risk.