When does the college send Timely Warnings?

Marra Clay and Mitchell Smith

On the morning of Monday, Nov. 7, Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Chuck Cleveland sent a “Timely Warning” email to the Whitman community alerting students, faculty, staff and parents of suspected druggings. Cleveland’s email noted that there were a “number of students who demonstrated symptoms that suggested they may have been drugged at parties” on the north side of Boyer Avenue on Saturday, Nov. 5. He also wrote that the incidents may be related to an anonymous report from the previous week.

The college has a history of reporting pressing issues to the campus through “Timely Warnings.” According to Associate Dean of Students Juli Dunn, they are designed to inform the community of serious situations or ongoing incidents.

“[A “Timely Warning”] constitutes an ongoing threat,” Dunn wrote in an email to The Wire. This warning will be issued by the Dean of Students Office through the college email system to students and employees.”

According to Cleveland, the college is unable to release “Timely Warnings” without specific details of incidents. Dunn received an anonymous report on Sunday, Oct. 30th, but Cleveland indicated that this anonymous report about druggings was too vague to send to the community.

“[The anonymous report] was very vague and very general with no details including who might have been impacted … We did not send out a timely warning because we didn’t think the evidence was strong,” Cleveland said. “There’s a fine line between giving people verifiable information and raising their anxiety, and we didn’t feel like we had a lot of verifiable information.”

However, according to the anonymous reporter, the initial report did include specifics of the incident. The report included the location of the incident, the victim’s Greek affiliation, contact information for the reporter and additional details of the night.

The anonymous reporter was only contacted once after filing her report, in an email from Dunn confirming that she had received the report. Dunn’s email read, “If there is anything more that you would like to share with me, please look at my schedule and click on a time that will work best for you,” and the anonymous reporter received no additional follow-up.

Many Whitman students are critical that the administration waited too long to share information about the druggings with the community. The “Timely Warning” was sent eight days after the first report was filed, and during that time several more Whitman students suspect they were drugged.

Following the incidents on Saturday, Nov. 5, Cleveland decided that there was enough significant evidence to send a “Timely Warning” to the community.

“This time the patterns and incidences were so overwhelming that it created the necessity … We were obligated, we had to at that point,” Cleveland said.

Student responses to the administration’s handling of these incidences varied.

“Pretty soon after I met Juli in person I felt like the college was handling it well and appropriately … I just don’t know how else as a student we could have made it clear to the administration what a huge and pressing issue this was,” Panhellenic president Molly Unsworth said.

However, Alpha Phi president Jessica Kostelnik thinks that more could have been done.

“The Greek system has had a very acute understanding of what’s going on, because we’re constantly talking to each other and because it’s happening to our members. We felt off campus students didn’t have that same understanding, so we needed some public display from the administration,” Kostelnik said. “I’m not sure what the school’s appropriate response would have been.”

Looking back, would the college have handled these incidents differently?

“Probably not given this, but that was–at the time–what we thought [was] the best thing to do,” Cleveland said.  

Cleveland’s email to students ended with: If you have any information that would be helpful to share with Whitman or the Walla Walla Police department, please call Chalese Rabidue (Domestic Violence Victims Advocate, 509.527.4434) or Juli Dunn ([email protected], 509.301.6824).  If you need confidential support, please call either the Counseling Center (509.527.5195), the Health Center (509.527.5281), or Hailey Powers (Sexual Assault Victims Advocate, [email protected], 509.526.3032).  If you would like to report anonymously, please do so through the online portal (http://whitman.edu/assist).