Timely Warning Email Leaves Unanswered Questions

Sarah Cornett

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Students, faculty and staff were sent a timely warning email from Dean of Students Chuck Cleveland last Friday stating that Eddie Mathews, a custodian employed by the college, had activated “trespassed” status. A photo of Mathews was included in the email, and Whitman community members were urged to call 911 and Whitman campus security if they spotted him on campus.

All administrative sources, including Physical Plant Services, the Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Peter Harvey, Human Resources and the Office of Security directed The Pioneer to Chief Communications Officer Michelle Ma. 

“What it means to be trespassed is that the person is not allowed to be on the Whitman college property,” said  Ma. “We thought the situation merited a trespass warning.”

As of Wednesday, Feb. 26,  Mathews was listed on the campus directory as a custodian with an office in the Physical Plant. Ma could not disclose any specific details regarding Mathews’s case.

“We had a situation on campus, and we can’t say much about it because it’s a human resources matter,” she said.

Director of Human Resources Dennis Hopwood confirmed that as of Wednesday, Feb. 26, Mathews was still under employment at the Physical Plant, but Hopwood could not release any specific information other than the significant need for a timely warning email.

“It was incumbent on us to announce to the campus that Mathews is not to appear on campus,” he said.

When asked why students were directed to call 911 before campus security, Ma said this procedure was standard measure in cases of an incident such as this one.

Director of Security Matt Stroe declined to comment on the situation. Administrative Assistant to the Physical Plant Tracy Peterson also declined to comment.

Students across campus felt the email did not provide enough information to properly inform them of what was happening. The email said that Mathews had “trespassed from the Whitman College campus,” a vague statement that left students unclear about the use of “trespassed” as a verb. Students also noted that the message didn’t provide any information as to why Mathews was not permitted on campus or if he was dangerous.

“I felt like it was really ineffective in the sense that you have no idea of what you’re trying to protect yourself from,” said sophomore Meg Logue, who read the email soon after it was sent out on Friday. “Sending out an email like that just scares people and doesn’t give them anything but a face to go on.”

Other students were unsure how cautious to be when walking in the vicinity of campus.

“Because of the vagueness, I was a little uncertain about walking home off campus,” said senior Will Huskey.

Students were also left feeling unclear about the level of danger Mathews posed, particularly because they were told to call 911 before the Office of Security.

“They should have said why they advised us to call 911 rather than Whitman security,” said senior Kate Runkel.

The email is the only information the Whitman community has received regarding the situation. Officers with the Walla Walla Police Department who were available during the times that The Pioneer called also declined to comment on the situation.

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