Late disclosure stoked jail policy controversy

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By Hunter Johnson & Sally Krutzig

Editor, News Editor

 

 

 

 

 

Some students expressed their discontent with the new jail policy by building the barricade shown above.  Dr. Plotts said that the jail was not allowed to operate until students took down the barricade, citing safety concerns. -Photo by Claire Ballor
Some students expressed their discontent with the new jail policy by building the barricade shown above. Dr. Plotts said that the jail was not allowed to operate until students took down the barricade, citing safety concerns.
-Photo by Claire Ballor

School administrators acknowledge that poor communication on their part was a factor in the controversy surrounding the Charity Week jail.

This year’s Charity Week jail was restricted by a new policy intended to ensure the safety of everyone involved. While in previous years the jailers had been known to capture people by physically carrying or dragging them, the new policy prohibited the use of such methods. However, a rowdy jail has long been a UD tradition and the administration received criticism for the policy change.

The administration felt that restrictions on the jail would help create a safer student environment after a Braniff graduate student filed a complaint to the university about being carried to the jail last year.

“Every year in the last two or three years, there’s been some kind of minor scrapes, bruises, etc. with last year kind of escalating into something a little larger and I said, ‘You know I really need to do something,’” said Dr. John Plotts, vice president of enrollment and student affairs.

Yet there was much confusion surrounding the new jail policy, some of which may be attributed to when people were informed of the changes. Though consideration of a new jail policy began in June, students were not told of the upcoming changes until shortly before Charity Week, according to Plotts.

Maggie Krewet, co-chair of the senior jail committee, said that she and fellow co-chair Chris Goldkamp were informed that changes were coming at the beginning of the semester. However, a few weeks prior to Charity Week they were given slightly different information.

“At first, they told us there would be no tackling and no chasing, and that there had to be consent in order to go to the jail,” she said. “Then there was a change that you could chase [and hold] people if they consented to it.”

Senior class representative Dominic Dougherty first heard about the new policy a few weeks before Charity Week at the leadership reception put on by the Office of Student Life (OSL) and Student Activities.

“They said they saw the people there as sort of role models for the student body and wanted them to support the jail even if they did not like the changes,” Dougherty said. “They wanted us to basically accept the changes and still support the jail so that lowerclassmen would still support the jail.”

While the idea of a safer jail had existed for some time, it was not until shortly before Charity Week that OSL decided on stricter rules for jailers, according to Plotts. The final policy was not written until roughly a week before Charity Week.

“Dore [Madere, director of student life,] brought it to me, I read it, I modified it, I changed some things…And I did that from within a week or so from when Charity Week started,” Plotts stated.

Students who had signed up to be jailers received an email on Sunday, Oct. 5, the first official day of Charity Week. It told them a mandatory meeting was to be held later that afternoon to instruct them on the new policy.

“They sent out the email for it shortly before the meeting,” said senior jailer Jeremy Hall. “It was very last-minute.”

The meeting was the first time most students, including the co-chairs of the jail committee, heard the policy outlined in clear terms.

“[The changes] were more strict than we were expecting,” Krewet said.

Plotts said that he regrets the rushed nature of the policy implementations.

“I don’t know what the communication was before [the jailer meeting] and if it was something that was quick like that and we didn’t get the students reactions, I apologize. We should’ve included them in the process,” Plotts stated.

New sexual assault policies were cited as a main motivator for changing the jail rules, an aspect of the changes that many students disagreed with. The policy handout given to all jailers, which they had to agree to uphold, included a section on sexual assault.

Citing the school’s sexual assault policy, it stated that “[s]anctions will be given to any accused member of the student body, including Jailors [sic] or Parole Officers, who are found guilty of performing sexual acts, regardless of original intention.”

Plotts and Madere were the two main creators of the new jail policy. They said they now regret the focus put upon sexual assault in the implementation of the policy.

“In hindsight, I probably wouldn’t even put it in [the jailer contract] because I don’t want to have the sexual assault policy be blamed for everything that happens on campus,” said Plotts.

“I will say that I have been guilty of having used the term ‘sexual assault’ too loosely,” said Madere. “I was more so just referring to the general assault and sexual assault policy, so it was not so much a concern about sexual assault per se.”

The focus on sexual assault, domestic assault and the graduate student’s complaint caused many to believe the hiring of university’s first general counsel, Karin Rilley, had something to do with the new policy.

“Basically they said that ‘We’ve hired a lawyer, [the lawyer] said “Why are you assaulting people? Why are you sponsoring something that’s assaulting people?”’” Dougherty stated about the leadership reception. “That’s the way that they conveyed it to us.”

Plotts, however, stressed that while Rilley may have given him counsel, he was ultimately responsible for the policy. According to Plotts, Rilley was not the primary person behind the change. “She never walked in here and said, ‘Hey you’ve got to change Charity Week,’” he said.

Though Plotts confirmed that there was consultation from the lawyer, the extent to which Rilley was involved remains unclear. Rilley declined to discuss her involvement in matters regarding Charity Week or the jail, citing attorney-client privilege.

Neither Texas nor federal law had anything to do with the creation of the new policy, said Plotts. Rather, it was based on the University of Dallas’ code of conduct.

Many students felt alternative options could have been implemented before altering the arrest policy completely. One of the most common suggestions was a waiver that would allow students to either opt in or opt out of being physically taken to jail.

Administrators say they considered that option, as well as wristbands and a non-restraining jail. Ultimately, they decided that these were not in students’ best interest.

“What it essentially came down to was that we were going to provide a piece of paper that said that people could agree to be assaulted,” Madere explained. “When we took a step back and thought about it, who would really sign that?”

Confusion with the jail went beyond the administration’s handling of the policy changes. Many students were under the impression that they had to use the same jail as last year, which tied in with the “Wild West” theme as a professionally-built livestock trailer.

This belief was incorrect, according to Plotts; students would have been allowed to build a jail.

Krewet confirmed that she was aware of this option, explaining that she and Goldkamp decided to keep the livestock trailer once they were told of the materials they could use to build a new jail.

“They told us that we could construct it out of streamers or some other non-dangerous materials,” she said.

Reusing the livestock trailer allowed students to raise more money for charity because money was not spent on buying or constructing a new jail.

Seniors have traditionally worked on the jail. This year, after the senior co-chairs decided to keep the trailer, the administration had the University of Dallas facility department sand and repair it, according to Krewet.

At least one member of the administration, assistant director of student activities Miquela Camara, was reportedly upset by the facilities department having to work on the trailer instead of the seniors, although Plotts said he did not think it was a problem.

“I never heard a word from facilities about it,” Plotts said. “If you get to know the guys down there, they really kind of thrive on these kind of projects. They like doing the unusual.”

Krewet said the senior class had the option to decorate the jail once facilities was finished. Facilities finished their work a week before Charity Week. With a short amount of time and little interest among the seniors in decorating it, Krewet and Goldkamp twice declined, on behalf of the class, to do so.

Some students reacted strongly to the new jail policy. On Wednesday morning, students and faculty arrived on the Mall to find the jail surrounded by chicken wire, wooden beams, and duct tape. A bed sheet, painted with the words “Resurrect the Jail,” had been hung over the jail. There was also a letter modeled after the Declaration of Independence asking the administration to open a dialogue with students about the new policy.

“We believe open dialogue between the students, administration, and faculty will foster clarity and understanding that may give rise to an alternative solution that will better maintain the spirit and tradition of the University,” it read.

Next to the barricade was a jar in which people could leave donations for charity, while not donating directly through the jail.

Some members of the administration felt the acts were disrespectful. Camara was offended by it, according to Dougherty, to whom she spoke on the Mall at that time. After Plotts said that the jail could only operate if the barricade was removed, it was taken down by students after getting permission from Goldkamp.

An “Occupy the Jail” movement started as an event by seniors on Facebook in opposition to the new arrest policy. Students had the idea to demonstrate a “sit-in” type of protest within the jail.

Plotts said he understood where the reaction was coming from, but still felt the new policy was for the best.

Charity Week 2012’s jail, pictured above, was the most recent to be completely built by a senior class.  This year’s co-chairs opted not to  build a new jail once they were informed that they would have to use non-dangerous material such as streamers. -Photo by Rebecca Rosen
Charity Week 2012’s jail, pictured above, was the most recent to be completely built by a senior class. This year’s co-chairs opted not to build a new jail once they were informed that they would have to use non-dangerous material such as streamers.
-Photo by Rebecca Rosen

“I understand it, nobody likes change. Traditions are often difficult when they’re modified. I do think this is a move in the right direction, regardless of the student reaction,” Plotts stated.

He also said that he hoped the controversy surrounding the new jail policy had not detracted from the importance of charity.

“I hope it hasn’t taken away from the emphasis of charity, that’s my fear. Charity Week is such a great thing. Everybody gets behind it. We give great money to some really great charities,” Plotts said.

He wondered aloud if students were so caught up in preserving tradition that they forgot why the tradition was started.

“I think that because they’re not focused on the charity itself, they’re focused more on the jailing process,” Plotts stated. “I don’t know why that is. Maybe we should call it ‘Me Week’ instead of Charity Week.”

Yet Plotts says he is sensitive to students’ love of their traditions.

“I wouldn’t change the jail, if it’s me, but it’s not,” he stated. “It’s not my school. I love this school and I work at this school, but I think it belongs to the students who go here and the people who graduated from here who really get to make those decisions.”

He emphasized his openness to changes in the jail policy next year as long as students’ safety remained a priority.

“I talked to Dore and Miquela and said maybe we should get the junior leadership together when this is over for an evaluation and see what we may be able to change for next year to enhance the experience yet keep everybody safe. Those are my main concerns,” Plotts explained.

In the end, the administration said the changes were made for safety and not out of a desire to restrict participants’ freedom.

“I really want students to know that I love their leadership,” Plotts said. “I love their enthusiasm, I love Charity Week, I want them to be safe and, if we can work within those, sky’s the limit on what we can come up with creatively.”

 

Clare Myers contributed to the reporting for this story.

7 COMMENTS

  1. “What it essentially came down to was that we were going to provide a piece of paper that said that people could agree to be assaulted,” Madere explained. “When we took a step back and thought about it, who would really sign that?”

    Actually, tons of people would sign that in the spirit of Charity Week. That was the entire point of having the signatures. They wanted to preserve the spirit of Charity Week while keeping within legal boundaries

    • I agree, I have spoken with a great many of people who were anxious for the administration to consent to a opt-in “more aggressive play” waiver!

  2. “I wouldn’t change the jail, if it’s me, but it’s not,” he stated. “It’s not my school. I love this school and I work at this school, but I think it belongs to the students who go here and the people who graduated from here who really get to make those decisions.”

    Are you kidding me? That is an exceptionally patronizing statement from the guy who actually made the policy change.

  3. I honestly think the majority of the student body completely overreacted to the new changes. The administration was simply trying to keep everyone safe. Sure, there could have been alternate routes to gaining that safety. But I can respect that they were trying to make Charity Week follow the school’s policy.

  4. I appreciate the thoroughness of the piece. However, while the administration went above and beyond the call of duty to apologize for any transgressions, the tone of the article (only focusing on where the administration made mistakes) suggests one of two things: one, that the article is biased (it never considers that students overreacted), or two, that the students feel no remorse for throwing a huge fit over a policy made for liability and safety concerns, and amidst the variety of more important issues plaguing society and even threatening the school.

    My hope is that it is not the latter. I think the administration took well-meant student concern the wrong way sometimes (as in, the jail ‘protest’), but that doesn’t undermine the fact that students overreacted as well; and, insofar as the administration is willing to apologize and try to find an equitable solution, I hope that students can emulate that example of humility.

  5. I think that this is just a further example of the incompetency of the Office of Student Life. Most students by now have heard of the inappropriate actions taken by certain members of OSL and the fact that OSL seems to control an increasing amount of the school year by year, while students have less and less say. From communication with students, alumni, and parents, it is clear that the OSL apparently cares little about the student body and more about exercising authoritarian control and maintaining some image of amicable relations with the student body. The OSL needs to change, and change soon. Dr. Plotts has generally been a proficient administrator, and the clear positive impact of President Keefe, this is yet another example of total failure by specifically the OSL, but also by their supervisory agents. Makes you wonder why the school suddenly hired the legal counsel, although speculation regarding that has been without a doubt accurate among the UD community recently.

    • It reveals how shockingly ignorant the administration remains, given their response to “we need stop sexual assault” was “neuter the second-most beloved tradition at the university that has not ever been associated with sexual assault.” The gross incompetence displayed by Madere when I was a student has only gotten worse with her promotion.

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