Tuesday, March 29, the College of William and Mary’s Panhellenic Council hosted a community town hall meeting at the Sadler Center to discuss student concerns regarding campus safety. While this was a Panhellenic Council event, both students affiliated and unaffiliated with Greek-life organizations were in attendance.
President of the Panhellenic Council Alexis Ballance ’23 and Vice President Elizabeth Wess ’24 organized the event with the intention to give students a safe space to discuss their worries.
“Our biggest goal is to make this as comfortable of an experience as possible for you guys,” Ballance said at the start of the town hall. “These topics, we understand, can be very heavy, so if you do have to step out at any time, please know that that is entirely okay and understandable.”
Ballance introduced the access to an anonymous report form via a QR code that would allow students to discuss their own emotions or concerns about campus safety or to make requests or offer feedback from administration on how to handle these concerns.
Ballance informed students that, although an invitation was shared with administration to attend the meeting, no administrators were present in order to respect students’ comfort and openness in discussing sensitive concerns. Additionally, Ballance told students that notes would be taken during the event, and would be collectively utilized alongside responses to anonymous polls and questions shared during the event to share with administration.
“We are coming together as a supportive community and we still have the ability to craft a strong message and most importantly, gather a broad variety of experiences from you all tonight,” Ballance said.
“We are coming together as a supportive community and we still have the ability to craft a strong message and most importantly, gather a broad variety of experiences from you all tonight”
An anonymous online poll was opened to students in attendance, asking how safe each student feels on campus, particularly when going out at night. The poll ranked individual feelings of safety on campus from one to seven, with one meaning an individual feels extremely unsafe and seven meaning an individual feels extremely safe.
Of the 25 students who participated in the survey, 36% ranked their safety level at three and 32% answered four, indicating a collective sense of moderate feelings of discomfort in regards to feelings about individual safety on campus.
Ballance and Wess then discussed student feedback and began addressing the survey responses.
“So, looking at these answers, I feel like that’s very indicative of where we are as a community. I mean, somewhere in the middle versus leaning towards the unsafe side,” Ballance said. “I feel like that does kind of show like what we’ve been hearing as Panhellenic staff.”
Next, Ballance opened an additional poll question, which prompted attendants to sum up their biggest concerns regarding campus safety in one word. Words submitted as responses by students included “roofying,” “stalkers,” “lighting,” “law,” “non-consent,” “mandatory reporting,” “communication” and “violence.”
“Once again, I think this is very indicative of the stuff we’ve been talking about,” Ballance said. “So, I see some of the words up there, like the biggest ones of course, are in regards to roofies and roofying. I know that’s been a huge conversation, especially for the Panhellenic chapters.”
“To jump in, one that stands out to me is communication,” Wess said. “So, we have been talking a lot about that in Panhellenic and we are hoping to get better communication with both administration and police departments regarding what is going on in terms of safety, and you know, when we hear about incidents, we often don’t know the full details or when they are resolved or being resolved, so we really do resonate with that.”
Students expressed displeasure with the College’s response to reports of misconduct, especially in regard to events that took place off-campus, where the administration’s jurisdiction is limited. Attendants believe that a formal acknowledgement from the College regarding misconduct that has taken place will encourage other students to feel comfortable coming forward with their own stories and prompt reformation of on- and off-campus safety measures.
Additionally, students requested a list of available resources meant to provide assistance in times of crisis, especially in regards to reporting incidents, which students believe would improve communication and encourage a sense of trust between students and the administration.
“I think people just wanted to come together and feel a sense of support, not just within their chapter, but on a community level,” Ballance said.
“I think people just wanted to come together and feel a sense of support, not just within their chapter, but on a community level”
“We did want to make, kind of a showing that this is a large issue for our community and for campus at large, especially to the administration, who may feel that these are isolated incidents. We wanted them to know that even though they may seem isolated, they do have a larger effect and they have been severely impacting the mood,” Wess said.
When asking about the next steps to take with administration, Wess spoke about the Panhellenic Council’s goals to set up a meeting to discuss student feedback.
“Since they were not able to attend tonight, our biggest goal is to meet with them and just go over the stuff that was talked about and see what are tangible steps and things we can help with them too, because we are not passive bystanders in all of this,” Ballance said. “We have a role on campus and we want to use that role to help our community and help the larger William and Mary community. And that includes also working with the Student Assembly. We’ve been in contact with them within the last few days, so kind of just working with them as well to just see what things we can do for our communities.”
“We have a role on campus and we want to use that role to help our community and help the larger William and Mary community.”
Liz Cascone, director of the Haven at the College, attended the meeting and shared information with students regarding available resources through the organization.
“We are a confidential resource on campus, we have lots of peer advocates who are trained to provide support, to provide information, to provide resources, to provide options and help people to understand the Title IX process, the criminal process, the civil legal process. And I work with students one-on-one as well,” Cascone said. “So, folks can come see me or a graduate assistant, or any of our peer advocates to get confidential support. If you have questions about an experience you had, we likely can answer that question.”
Cascone also told students that she works with the Dean of Students office, the Title IX office, the SLD and Residence Life, and has many connections with individuals who address issues brought up by students during the meeting.
Editor’s Note: Individual quotes from the students who spoke during the event were not included in this article to preserve their safety.
For any student in need of confidential assistance, virtual and in-person appointments can be made using the Haven’s website listed below:
Thank you for your efforts to address safety on campus. Believe me, this was an issue when I was a student at W & M many years ago. I found that some of the terms used in the article were unknown to me. In particular, what is “roofying”? I do hope that you succeed in accomplishing student/administration collaboration when solutions are being sought.
Robinette Henderson Fitzsimmons ’64