There is no doubt that the “racially-charged incident” that happened on Fraternity Circle the night of November 6 was a shameful chapter in the history of Hampden-Sydney College. However, in the month since then, the administration, student leaders and the rest of the campus community are doing and saying all the right things.
According to student leaders, the environment and social atmosphere on campus appears to be getting better with each passing day.
“It is steadily improving, responsive, and most everything seems to be ready to do what it takes to fix what happened and move forward,” said August Widmer ’13, head of the Interfraternity Council (IFC). David Coe ’14, President of the Minority Student Union (MSU), agreed, stating that “it’s been positive for the majority, and the Thanksgiving Break was much needed, allowing time for cooler heads to prevail.”
Student Body President Brit McKenzie ’13 had a slightly different take on the vibe around campus. “Since the incident, it has been kind of fractured, as if people don’t know who to turn to.”
On Tuesday, November 27, a panel discussion was held in Johns Auditorium as representatives from student government, fraternities and MSU got together to talk about what happened and what was the next plan of action for the student body. Despite the sparse attendance, the panel proved to be a productive discussion and many great points and ideas were brought up. Among the items discussed was the possibility of a “turf war” between fraternities and non-fraternities on the Circle. Student leaders do not think that such tension exists, including McKenzie. “‘Turf war’ is an overstatement. It’s more of a distinct disagreement over who should live in fraternity houses,” he said.
Other student leaders agree that fraternity members might not too be thrilled about non-fraternity organizations living in houses formerly used by now defunct fraternity chapters, such as the MSU house that formerly belonged to Lambda Chi Alpha. “Fraternity members would like to see the Greek system operating at full capacity with fraternities in all the houses,” Widmer said. Coe adds that he has “plenty of friends at fraternities unbothered by it [though] there is a dissenting minority.”
After making news of the incident public, the administration has taken a more “hands-off” approach to the situation, allowing the student leaders to have as much input as possible.
“They’ve given about 95% reign on the situation to student leaders, which I think is a good thing,” Coe said. McKenzie added that since their “obligation to inform the public, [the administration] has taken a backseat on community outreach and supported the student cause.”
Coe, Widmer and McKenzie all praised their fellow student leaders for the way they have handled the aftermath of the incident thus far. “Everyone who has needed to has stepped up to the challenge,” Widmer said. Coe specifically cited the fraternity representatives that spoke at last Tuesday’s panel. “For them to attend and stand up there and say what they said shows the strength that they had,” he said. McKenzie agreed that “student leadership, such as those on the panel, has done a terrific job, and there’s been a lot of appreciation and back-patting. [However,] we now need to follow through on the conviction of our words.”
In addition to the 4 or 5 unknown individuals being tries before the Student Court for their actions on November 6, the student government and student leaders have done other things to move forward from the incident. For example, according to Widmer, the IFC has “investigated the situation fraternity-wide.” Coe added that student leaders have “spread the message and are talking about the long-term.”
In my interview with McKenzie, he talked extensively about a recently created Action Plan, which, according to him, will serve the student government and student leaders as an “informal guideline to short-term and long-term goals they hope to achieve.”
Among the long-term goals in this Action plan is the addition of a program during New Student Orientation that talks about the inclusiveness of the Hampden-Sydney College community. Coe supported the creation of such a program, stating that students are “most impressionable during their first few weeks here.”
When asked what should be done, Widmer agreed with the Freshmen Orientation program, but also believes in a more individual solution. “The biggest thing is making sure every student makes a personal charge to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Widmer said.
McKenzie also suggested incorporating a message of inclusiveness into the Admission Process as a means of talking about the incident, the aftermath and how such actions will no longer be tolerated at Hampden-Sydney.
“We can’t solve racism, but what we can do is stop bigotry from entering these gates,” McKenzie said.