Homecoming Weekend: A Time for Violence

“Given the size of our campus and our openness to visitors, each of us must make a personal commitment to promote safety and security for ourselves and others.”

Good thing your usually paranoid WesParents were kept busy this weekend. Otherwise they might have heard through the grapevine about the inordinate number of P-Safe reports students received. Ranging from the awkward to the truly menacing, each report detailed an account of students approached at night by men, and all of them ended in shouting or physical confrontations. The first one, from Friday night (or Saturday morning, depending on how you operate), seems merely socially awkward:

Public Safety would like to inform the community that on Saturday 10/20/12 at 2:44am a female was walking on Church St and was approached by a male subject who put his arm around her and asked her to walk with him. The male removed his arm and tried to start a conversation with the student. Several other students walked by and the female walked away from the male and into the Exley Science Center. The male shouted out to her but did not follow her. The male then left the area and the student later notified Public Safety of the incident. The student was not injured and declined to speak with Middletown Police.

The student described  the suspect as an African-American male, 5″ 6″ tall, medium build in, his late 20’s or early 30’s, short hair, wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, dark jeans and carrying a backpack.

The next incident of which we were notified occurred earlier in the same night:

Public Safety would like to inform the community that on Saturday 10/20/12 at approximately 12:10am several students were walking in the area of High and Church Streets when they were approached by several subjects who attempted to engage them in conversation. The subjects then began chasing the students knocking one to the ground then striking him several times. The subjects then fled the scene. One student received minor injuries that did not require medical attention. The students then returned to their residences reporting the incident later to Public Safety and declined to speak with Middletown Police.

The students described the suspects as a three African-American males, in their early 20’s, medium build one was wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt  the second had braided hair and was approximately 5’5″ tall and the third suspect was approximately 5’9″ tall.

Apparently a student (or PSafe, it’s a little unclear from the wording) found one of those guys, but as the subject was a non-student, the MPD took care of it:

Public Safety would like to update the Wesleyan community concerning the Public Safety Alert regarding the assault that occurred on 10/20/12 in the area of High and Church Streets. On Sunday 10/21/12 at 2:11am Public Safety was approached by a student at a party on Fountain Ave and identified a non-student attending the party as being one of the subjects involved in the assault. Public Safety identified the subject who was arrested by Middletown police on unrelated charges.

And this last mugging from Saturday night, perhaps all the more disturbing because it was in the center of campus, involved a weapon, and occurred not even very late at night:

Public Safety would like to inform the community that on Sunday 10/21/12 at approximately 9:00pm a student was walking on Andrus Field when he was approached from behind by 3 individuals. When the student turned around he was struck in the face by one of the subjects. One of the subjects then pulled out what was believed to be an air soft gun and demanded the student’s belongings. The student then fought back and fled the area. The subjects were last seen fleeing towards Washington St. The student was treated for facial injuries at the hospital.

The student described the first subject as an African-American male 5’10”  tall with a slim build, the second suspect as a  Hispanic male 5″7″ tall with a slim build and could not provide any information on the third subject. All subjects were believed to be in their late teens.

This follows on a series of campus robberies as well as a New York Times article about campus safety this summer. It is impossible not to notice the race of the attackers, who are mentioned as being African-American or Hispanic whenever they can be described. Is this the result of a bias on the part of the students who reported the incidents or the fact that there might be a consistent assailant involved? Adam Rotstein ’13 seemed to assert the former viewpoint on Twitter with his own, much retweeted version of a Public Safety alert, which might have specifically been in response to the “walk with me” incident:

Debates have raged on the ACB, with some commenters standing up for the students that were accused of bias:

The incidents certainly look bad for P-Safe, considering the amount of energy they spent haranguing students for chalking or occupying Board of Trustee meetings during the day. People on the ACB have reacted in bitter and contradictory ways, especially to the events on Saturday. Some commenters are saying that P-Safe is failing to protect students from outside threats and instead spends too much energy every weekend trying to “save students from themselves.

Others have emphasized our social standing in relation to Middletown and the fact that, despite our openness as a campus, perhaps there is a sense of insulation that pervades our community, and that insulation makes us vulnerable to class anger:

(On a side note, I haven’t seen anything to back up the assertion that black Middletown residents face P-Safe or MPD harassment when they walk around campus,  and I have often seen Middletown residents making use of Andrus field, Olin, etc., without being stopped. I know Olin, in particular, welcomes patrons from Middletown. But not being a black Middletown resident, I can’t know for sure whether all interactions have been positive.)

In contrast to the email sent out late this afternoon by P-Safe Director Dave Meyer and Dean Whaley, which offered security tips and to some students smacked of victim-blaming, students on the ACB urged P-Safe to redistribute its energies, in particular patrolling the areas around Church and High street and the Rises, where many incidents seem to have recently occurred, rather than busting up every party and bickering with chalkers. The e-mail from this afternoon does indeed mention “adding extra patrols of the campus beginning tonight and continuing through the upcoming weekend… [and] Middletown Police officers to supplement these patrols, ” but it doesn’t say where. The ACB’ers also suggested improving the lighting around these areas. All very practical solutions, but then there’s the post about digging a moat and filling it with electric eels. Oh, ACB…

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  • puzzled

    Why is everyone assuming that the first incident included a Middletown resident? 1. Not every non-campus visitor is a Middletown resident (in fact, recall that when violence is perpetuated against students at Wes its often done by someone not from Middeltown or even CT, 2.It was parents weekend and homecoming so there were many non-Wes, non-Middletown people around, and 3. His age was stated as 20s to 30s. Could have been a wes student, especially as he was carrying a backpack…

  • pyrotechnics

    Since my post (http://wesleying.org/2012/10/23/you-should-read-this/) has been referenced several times now, I would like to point out that although it was primarily about sexual violence, a very important part of it was that Wesleyan has a problem with vilification of individuals for their opinions. Please stop doing that. You can make your points, arguments, disagreements, and complaints in a way that is tonally and linguistically constructive rather than derisive, targeting, and angry.

  • not ok

    Wesleying (or goatmilk), I’m disappointed. (To preface, my comments come in light of the progress I thought we were making on addressing sexual assault on campus.)

    With regards to your comments on the first PSafe report, I find your claim “The first one, from Friday night…seems merely socially awkward” to be unsolicited, unfounded, and simply incredibly insensitive. Assuming the PSafe report was accurate (see petition to audit ResLife/PSafe), this was NOT “merely socially awkward.” This was a female student walking alone at 3 in the morning and approached by a stranger. You may be assuming that for someone to put their arms around someone else is totally acceptable behavior, but at 3 in the morning, a female walking alone, and an unidentified male who *happen* to be lurking in the area: yes, I would feel threatened if a hooded stranger grabbed me while I was walking alone at night (regardless of gender, race, height, or any other characteristic). To quote the ACB poster: “it’s fucking terrifying.” The report suggests that the student was lucky that other students happened to walk by and she was able to leave the situation before it escalated, but this should not be the case.

    But more importantly, I find the reactions of some students (you and I guess Adam Rotstein) really troubling: why this reflex to doubt the victim, to be dismissive of the gravity of the situation? Can’t we actually consider that the student genuinely felt threatened, as opposed to, what, out on a craze to report black men for misdemeanors out of some unproven racist bias? That she felt her safety jeopardized, and was maybe compelled to report the incident so that other students (female or male) can be more alert when walking at night? Re-posting Adam Rotstein’s tweet (which, by the way, I find to be gratuitous and problematically assumes that the interaction was polite as opposed to potentially dangerous – no, this is NOT someone politely asking for a pen) only further belittles the student and her experience.

    I think we are making progress in raising awareness about sexual assault on campus (see Wesleying’s recent piece on it); please reconsider your writing in this case as well. (Yes I know you writers have the right to assert your opinion, but for an article that is framed as expository, your decisions here are not only based on zero grounds, are insensitive the student involved, and serve no journalistic purpose – they take us steps back from forming a supportive environment for victims of sexual assault.)

    • goatmilk

      A clarification: I’m neither doubting nor belittling the students; I’m simply acknowledging valid concerns brought up by other students regarding racially sensitive aspects of these reports. Do you not recognize Public Safety’s selectivity in sending out some Safety Alerts as all-campus emails and not sending out others? Note that they (typically) don’t send out alerts regarding assaults perpetrated by students on other students, including sexual assaults, as Alanna said. Why not? Would the alert regarding the arm-around-the-student interaction have been sent out if it were perpetrated by another Wes student rather than “an African-American male in his late 20?s or early 30?s’”? Have you spoken to African-American students who are disproportionately questioned by P-Safe and assumed to be “townies” (I hate this word) while walking across campus at night? Is it unreasonable to acknowledge genuine concerns that have been voiced publicly by members of this community without being called “insensitive”?

      By bringing up these concerns, I’m opening up discussion—not shutting it down or belittling victims. Whether or not you acknowledge it, troubling encounters with Middletown residents are often two-way interactions; as Alanna points out, at least one of these incidents involved antagonistic comments on the part of a student. We should be able to acknowledge concerns without “victim-blaming.”

      Lastly, Adam’s tweet was obviously satirical, and no Wesleying post is framed as objective reporting; avoid making that assumption.

  • DP’15

    It’s a little bit crazy that the first reaction to what is the unsurprising result of Wesleyan’s concentration of privilege self-exemption from broader social norms, self isolation, and all the basic class antagonisms that this entails is to further militarize and beef up our security rather than breaking down the walls we have built between ourselves and our fellow Mtown residents. Rather than building bridges our first reaction as a community is to purchase the services of this town’s public police force in order to defend our own class interests. The Wesleyan community has increasingly sealed itself off from the rest of town over the past two decades. Our own grocery store, our own post office, our own clinic, our own banking, our own restaurants, our own cops, our own rules. If things continue in this directions gates and fences won’t be far off. What we need instead is increased dialogue and shared reconciliation of the basic class antagonisms that are inherent in our position at this school.

    • hmm

      I would love to hear you try to give this speech to a local interested in punching you in the face and stealing your shit.

      • Alanna Badgley

        Sorry, I have to say one more thing…

        http://wesleyanargus.com/2012/10/22/multiple-students-assaulted-over-weekend/
        If you read the quotations of Anonymous ’14, the altercation that resulted in a physical assault was antagonized by the student. He was implying that the individuals had no right to be on our campus (when they do, because we have an open campus). It’s particularly interesting that the assault occurred in the LoRise courtyard, which shares a back yard with dozens of Middletown homes. A child who lives next to LoRise once told me that it was really hard to sleep at night when he could hear all the Wesleyan kids getting drunk and partying (he was 5 years old at the time). (Perhaps we should rethink the nature of the divisions we create between “us” and “them”). Had the student featured in the Argus article considered that he was in fact being “a drunk stupid idiot” and potentially disturbing those who live nearby and have children who were trying to sleep? Had he considered the fact that by telling these individuals that they had “no right” to be there may have well been saying that they had no right to be somewhere possibly a few hundred feet from their homes? This was not a random attack, but one antagonized by a Wesleyan student who seems to fit into the category of “privileged self-exemption” brought up by DP. We should be more capable of treating our neighbors in Middletown the way we treat our neighbors at home. Maybe then they won’t be so interested in “punching you in the face and stealing your shit.”

  • Alanna Badgley

    When are we going to start getting Public Safety alerts when these types of things are perpetuated by students? Because I’m pretty sure it’s not only non-students who are behaving in these ways. Believe it or not, Wes students do bad things too. Violent and non-violent. (Let’s remember the fact that we’re incredibly enabled to do illegal things every weekend by the security we have protecting us from the real police). These alerts do very little except to increase the divide and tension between students and non-students. Wesleyan students, in general, need to get better at realizing that they live in the world (and in Middletown) and that their bubble of naiveté and their lack of acceptance of the reality of the world outside that bubble will eventually go away. When we graduate we won’t have security officers babysitting us anymore. People exist. People sometimes do bad things. We have to be able to deal with that and be more willing to engage in the community we live in (read:Middletown) and all that it has to offer us (good and bad). Perhaps, if we spent more time being a part of our community and considering ourselves to be a part of that community, fewer people would see us as those “rich white kids that live up on the hill” (to quote a non-student friend of mine) and feel more connected to the Wesleyan community. If this ridiculous divide is ameliorated, maybe we’d even be less vulnerable because we wouldn’t be viewed by the community as something “other”. (I may as well throw in the fact that the wes administration does us no favors in forcing us to stay in the bubble and thus effectively disengaging us from our community). There’s more to these public safety alerts than what’s on the surface. Let’s take this as an opportunity to question what’s really going when we maintain our bubble.

    • wesstudent

      While at Wesleyan, I have multiple times been called a faggot by passing by Middletown residents and been harassed at night by Middletown residents (last weekend, for example, a guy walked up to me out of the blue and tried to pick a fight until his friend pulled him away). These little interactions weren’t particularly terrible, but I’ve never had interactions like that with a Wesleyan student. Ever.

      On that note, in the four years I’ve been here I’ve never heard of a Wesleyan student being robbed by another Wesleyan student; the worst I’ve ever heard of was an alleged laptop theft. I’m also failing to remember the last time a Wesleyan student was sent to the hospital with injuries after being beat up by a group of other Wesleyan students.

      Obviously the vast majority of people in Middletown are perfectly nice, but there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to avoid being assaulted, robbed, whatever by the few bad apples that live there. Enough with this bullshit white-privileged kid guilt – it’s not our fault that some people in Middletown choose to attack us, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be protected from that by our campus police. That’s what campus police exist to do.

      Get off your high fucking horse. Wesleyan students (including myself) work in Middletown, are involved in community service there, and patronize its businesses. And most of us will have plenty of great relationships with people in Middletown. But some criminals in the area will attack us because we’re easy targets, not because they want us to be more cuddly with the community they happen to be from. It’s just what happens when you have a college plopped next to some not so nice areas. If there’s a problem with students being attacked by criminals living nearby, we should expect our officers address the issue and increase our safety. I have a feeling you wouldn’t be bitching at people to get out of a bubble if you had been beaten and robbed by Middletown residents this weekend.

      On that note, why the hell would the writer of this wesleying post think that students were making up the races of their attackers? There’s nothing racist about giving an accurate physical description of the person that attacked you, whether they’re black, white, or hispanic. It’s insulting to insinuate that the people who were assaulted this weekend were biased against blacks or hispanics (not counting the girl who had a random guy approach her in the middle of the night and put his arm around her – creepy, maybe, but whether or not that was worth reporting is debatable).

      • Alanna Badgley

        I feel that I should clarify that I wasn’t justifying the actions of those who are violent, nor do I think Wesleyan students should not be protected from harm when it occurs. The point I was making was the fact that we only receive these e-mails when crimes are committed by non-students. Perhaps the reason you have never heard of a Wes student being robbed by another, or assaulting another, is because the information wasn’t sent to you in a campus-wide e-mail. Perhaps we are “easy targets” because it’s easy to see that we walk around our campus naively as if we are safe from harm, because we assume nothing can happen to us here (we have campus police after all!). It’s an open campus, not a gated community. Perhaps you’ve never experienced the violence of a Wesleyan student. I have. Two physically (sexually) assaulted me in my first 3 years. There’s another Wesleying post from today that addresses the pandemic that is sexual violence (student against student) on this campus. You should read it. It might help you reconsider your position on the lack of student crime.

        I live off campus this year. One of the main reasons: I felt extremely unsafe at Wesleyan, surrounded by drunk, violent and belligerent students every weekend. Every weekend, you can experience students yelling at one another (sometimes getting in physical altercations), breaking bottles, destroying property (whatup Tour de Franzia), being loud and disrespectful in the back yards of Middletown families’ homes in the middle of the night, standing in the street when cars are driving through, yelling obscenities at each other and passers-by, burning other’s property in the streets, stealing christmas decorations from nearby homes, etc. All of these things are done by students who have absolutely no regard for their actions or the consequences their actions have for others (we go to Wes, but we somehow missed Kindergarten?). These examples of student behaving belligerently and irresponsibly would not be tolerated outside of a community protected by a security force, that for the most part, looks the other way at our ridiculousness. How often did you commit a crime as an undergrad by drinking alcohol underage or doing illicit drugs? Maybe not a violent crime, but a crime nonetheless. I personally try my best to take responsibility for my participation in campus party culture, and all that comes with it. I’m not sure how many other students do.

        My “high fucking horse” is nothing “higher” than a perspective different from yours and a willingness to accept my postion in my community as both a Wesleyan student but also as a resident of this town. I think it’s time that students start considering themselves to be Middletown residents too (we do, after all, reside in Middletown). I suppose that living off campus has given me the extra perspective to allow me to realize how much actual living I was missing out on when I was confined to campus.

        Let me conclude by reiterating what the intention of my original post was: I wasn’t saying that it’s okay for anyone to assault anyone else. I was saying that there shouldn’t be this dichotomy of non-student=bad and student=good. It’s simply not how it works, and it’s dangerous and irresponsible for us to think that it does.

        • curious

          Honest question – do Middletown residents want Wesleyan to consider ourselves to also be Middletown residents? A lot of them seemed pretty miffed when students took part in their city’s elections for example.

        • Suzanne

          Hi Alanna,

          I’m a producer with Maha Productions. We’re producing a documentary on the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses. Would it be possible to send you more information on our film? We’re looking for advocates who can speak about rape culture, views on consent and sexual violence. Please feel free to email me at suzanner@gmail.com. Many thanks

  • off-campus housing! middletown is a real place full of real people! i’m more afraid of michael roth than I am of any middletown resident

  • Stop using the word ‘townies.’

    It’s just not helpful. Some Middletown residents can pose threats to campus safety, yes. But Middletown is also full of wonderful people. Please stop lumping them all together, deriding them as ‘townies,’ and asking PSafe to “defend the students from the townies.” PSafe needs to make campus safe from criminals, not ‘townies.’

  • person

    “Is this the result of a bias on the part of the students who reported the incidents or the fact that there might be a consistent assailant involved?”

    Have we really gotten to the point where it’s inappropriate to suggest that the attackers are all different people who happen to be black or hispanic? Like because they’re all described as people of color either the descriptions are biased or it’s one person. Jesus Fucking Christ.

  • yeah

    i don’t get why people think the victims are lying when they describe their assailants. what the hell is that about? yeah, wouldn’t we all feel better if the attackers were white and didn’t play into the reinforcement of racial stereotypes – but there’s no reason to assume the victims aren’t telling the truth. just because our pc monitors are raging doesn’t change the veracity of their descriptions

    • steve

      truth.

    • anon

      Given that there are large numbers of both whites and african-americans in Middletown, eventually, statistically, its going to happen that a handful of crimes committed on the same weekend were all done by people of the same race. It isn’t racist to report information that can be useful for identification.