Inflammatory notes targeting a student’s sexual orientation found in a Whitworth University dormitory last month have prompted a re-evaluation of the school’s harassment policies.
University spokeswoman Nancy Hines said more than one note targeting a single student was discovered in the unnamed dorm. In response, the university shut down access to the building to student residents only, a restriction that’s still in effect.
The university’s vice president for student life, Richard Mandeville, sent emails to all students on Oct. 25 and 29 acknowledging that there have been several incidents on campus when people were demeaned or threatened based on their sexual orientation and race.
“Hatred has no place here,” Mandeville wrote. “Whitworth will take disciplinary action against anyone found to be responsible for these acts.”
The president of the university’s Gay-Straight Alliance club, sophomore Audrey Gudeman, said multiple students have told club members of similar harassment but haven’t officially reported the incidents to the school.
“It’s definitely a problem on campus, but at the same time – I just want to see it addressed and it’s not like you have to be scared when you walk to your classes,” Gudeman said. “There’s only so much you can do when students aren’t reporting stuff.”
The October string of harassments coincide with a week dedicated to the Gay-Straight Alliance’s activities, which Gudeman speculates brought more spotlight to gay and lesbian students.
Gudeman said state and national politics also have more people paying attention to sexual orientation issues and are bringing more students into the open about their sexuality.
In the wake of the reported incident, a task force within Whitworth’s institutional diversity committee will give a fresh look to the school’s harassment policies.
Lawrence Burnley, associate vice president of diversity and intercultural relations, said students want the school to develop anonymous reporting options.
“It was mentioned that perhaps students would feel less reluctant to report … if it’s anonymous,” Burnley said.
“If somebody observes behavior that’s inappropriate, we want to remove any deterrent for people coming forward and reporting information.”
Burnley said he hopes the task force will create a proactive approach to harassment instead of making the university react to incidents. The group hopes to file a report in January.
Burnley said, “We’re a microcosm of the world. We’re certainly not a place that’s totally void of insensitive behavior.”