Whitman reacts to security threats

At 2:00 am on Saturday, Nov. 14, an unidentified man in an unidentified vehicle harassed students in the parking lot behind the science building and on streets bordering campus.

This incident was brought to the attention of campus security and the Walla Walla Police Department. Both agencies have been working to increase campus security and awareness. This semester has seen multiple occurrences of threats on and near campus, from bike thefts to drive-by harassment to break-ins. As a result, security and police have increased their presence on campus and begun locking academic buildings at 9 pm on weekdays and 24 hours a day on the weekend to those without swipe access.

According to Director of Security Matt Stroe, the man was reported to be about 6’3” with dark hair and a grey sweatsuit. He repeatedly and forcefully asked different students on and around campus if they wanted a ride. After being confronted by Whitman Security, the man drove away down Park Street, at which point security officers contacted the Police Department, who were unable to locate him.

“I’ve spoken to a few police officers and they’ve been around the campus quite frequently. I know that during the day shift they’re still here but not as heavy of a presence … my staff is now going out and walking the Park/Stanton/Boyer area just to see if they come across him,” said Stroe.

This incident was reminiscent of other recent drive-by harassment events, which have targeted women and people of color and involved men in trucks verbally attacking students. Stroe, however, maintains that there is no connection between this incident and the racially charged harassments reported earlier in the semester.

“It sounds like the individual who is driving the vehicle is a person of color…so it’s completely separate incident all together,” said Stroe.

Students heard about the incident through an email sent by Juli Dunn the morning after it took place. Students had varied reactions to the incident.

“It’s nice to have an email just so people are aware, and can be going out on a Saturday night and not be totally dumbfounded when something scary happens to them,” said junior Aleyna Porreca. “I think it’s good for people to be aware of their surroundings.”

However, she also thinks that while the emails boost awareness, she does not think they necessarily decrease her vulnerability. When asked whether she feels safe on campus, Porreca responded with an equivocation.

“Yes, but I don’t know whether I feel safe because the school is doing something to keep me safe or if I just feel confident in my own ability to keep myself safe,” said Porreca.

Junior Mona Law had a more visceral reaction. To her, the emails are potentially useful, but they seem to do more harm than good.

“I’m not scared, I don’t want to be scared.”

Junior Riley Mehring thinks that issues of street harassment in Walla Walla are serious concerns, but they also are unsurprising to students from urban areas.

“People will definitely try to get you to get into their car,” said Mehring, “I’m from a city, so that has happened.”

In the wake of this incident, Stroe has emphasized safety measures.

“I would advise [students] to walk in pairs, stay in well-lit areas and stay on the interior campus as much as possible instead of walking on the side streets. Take advantage of the escorts that are available and even if it’s after the escort hours are over, there’s still 24 hour escort from security,” said Stroe.

Some students, however, view this issue as more than an occasional harassment incident. Silas Morgan, a student escort who also lives near campus, thinks that Whitman cannot be the absolutely safe space many administrators would like it to be.

“It’s just troubling, because there you see the disconnect of the Whitman Bubble,” said Morgan, “We’re creating this hyperableist…very unique space here and trying to make it as safe and accessible as possible, but you can’t…make it walled off from the outside world, which is full of people that like to prey on women.”