The Staunton Police department has issued a news release saying that they have “concluded their investigation into the recent series of incidents which included telephone harassment, property damage, a threatening letter, and a felonious assault at Mary Baldwin University between February 1st and February 20th.” As a result of their investigation, the police say, they have concluded that the assault, property damage, and threat by letter are unfounded.
The reported incidents of harassment targeting lesbian students at Mary Baldwin University earlier this semester rocked our campus community. They caused much consternation and fear. They also brought our community together to say, publicly and unequivocally, that we will not tolerate harassment on any basis, including sexual orientation.
There are two separate issues that the college has had to address. First, there were the incidents themselves. Second, there is the issue of what Mary Baldwin stands for — what behaviors we as a community will and will not tolerate.
In January, some students verbally abused others and engaged in behavior that, while not criminal, is offensive and prohibited by our Student Code of Conduct. Those students were quickly sanctioned with the result that one is no longer a student at Mary Baldwin and the other is no longer allowed to live in campus housing.
Other incidents were subsequently reported, including physical violence and death threats. As soon as Mary Baldwin University received reports of criminal actions, we turned the investigation over to the police. We also offered individual security escorts to students who had been threatened, stepped up security patrols on campus, and offered a significant reward for information about the incidents.
The police have now concluded their investigation and closed the case. They believe that some of the reports, including that of assault, were unfounded, and they lack leads to investigate the telephone harassment further.
Mary Baldwin University must and will give the conclusions of the police due and mature consideration. We also caution all members of our community to make no assumptions about the veracity of any reported incidents, past or future: irrefutably, as noted above, there have been non-criminal but unpleasant incidents targeting lesbians here at Mary Baldwin University.
This brings us to the second issue, which is Mary Baldwin itself. We continue to assert, unequivocally, that harassment on any basis, including sexual orientation, is simply not acceptable behavior in our community. Every person who is accepted as a student here has the right to experience the best our college has to offer, both in and out of the classroom, without fear for her safety. She has the right to be treated civilly and fairly.
We have already begun the process of seeking advice from the Anti-Defamation League. They will help us provide training for Mary Baldwin personnel, particularly security officers, in dealing with hate incidents. They will also assist in the development of specific procedures to deal with hate-related and harassment issues, as well as programming to support our long-term commitment to being proactive in the prevention of harassment.
The best thing to grow out of the events of the last several weeks has been a renewed sense of community and support for each other at Mary Baldwin. The Candlelight Vigil on February 23 was a wonderful expression of that.
We acknowledge that deep differences exist between people. A variety of lifestyles and opinions exists within our community of students, faculty, staff and alumnae. It is sometimes very difficult to find common ground. Our challenge is to live with all our differences and to express disagreement through reasonable discussion. Part of our role as an institution is to teach students that it is indeed possible to work side by side with people very different from ourselves. Civility and fairness are vital to our community and integral to our identity.
In the long run, it will not be the content of the police report that is important. It is how our community chooses to define itself that will make the difference. And we choose to define ourselves as an inclusive community in which all sorts of people can teach, learn, and work in safety — as a community in which we grapple with our differences not with violence but through dialogue.