Harassment, drug use reported at Stewart Lawn Dance

by Hayley O’Brien

The traditional Stewart Lawn Dance this year involved incidents of marijuana use, sexual harassment and uninvited high school and college students from other universities. Stewart leadership members alerted ASWU of the illicit activity at the weekly ASWU meeting Sept. 25, and solicited opinions for how to make the dance safer in the future.

“We are in the process of working out of the past and ensuring that the future of Stewart Lawn Dance is better,” Stewart leadership said in a statement. They declined to comment further for this story.

Joel Diaz, one of the security officers on duty the night of the dance, said he believes the leadership was frustrated that these incidents were happening at one of Whitworth’s traditional dances.

Despite the events that occurred, Diaz said he thinks the dance this year was safer than last year’s, because there was a monitoring network.

“Last year it felt a bit chaotic,” Diaz said. “We didn’t have as many student leaders on duty or stepping up like they did this year. I was really impressed with the RAs at Stewart; they did not hesitate to come to me so I could take care of any situations.”

Freshman Delaney Shields said she left the dance after she was sexually assaulted.

Shields and her friends were in the middle of the dance floor when an unknown person started grind dancing on her, Shields said. She was uncomfortable with the situation and moved out from the center of the dance circle.

Shortly thereafter, an unknown person reached under her skirt and groped her, then fled, Shields said.

“You have to put some effort in to crouch down and get up a knee-length skirt,” Shields said. “When that happened I was completely in shock. I wasn’t really interested in staying then.”

A documented total of 24 non-Whitworth community members attended the Stewart Lawn Dance this year, including 11 students from Mead High School, Diaz said.

“You can tell the difference between our students and others,” Diaz said. “When students are having a good time, shouting out normal phrases like ‘Pinecone Curtain,’ or ‘Virgin pinecone’ you know these are Whitworth students. They speak Whitworth.”

Clusters of people stood outside the dance area, talking about high school. When asked by Diaz, the individuals admitted to being from Mead High School, Diaz said.

These students were asked to leave and escorted off campus.

Security discovered two students from other universities smoking marijuana, and found one other student in possession of the drug.

“As soon as a student worker indicated to me, ‘We smell it,’ I told them I smelled it too,” Diaz said. “I was on the hunt trying to find out who was doing it.”

The acts of illicit drug use were committed by non-Whitworth students, who were escorted off campus by security shortly thereafter. No Whitworth student was found participating in illicit activities, Diaz said.

Security did not file a public report on the individuals, because they were not Whitworth students and they chose to cooperate with security, Supervisor II Security, Jacquelyn McCord said.

Other than private daily written reports submitted by security officers to McCord, no other documentation of these incidents exist. Unless a Whitworth student is found to be the perpetrator of an incident, reports do not file into the public access crime log found on Whitworth’s website, Diaz said.

“There were students from off-campus who seemed to be buzzed and you could see it in their face and how they were standing,” Diaz said.

At one point, a Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputy was dispatched to Whitworth to deal with one trespasser who was hurting a student. The officer issued a verbal warning, and convinced the trespasser to leave and not return, Diaz said.

Security protocol for dealing with non-members of the Whitworth community often involves escorting the offender off campus, and potentially issuing a citation for trespassing, Diaz said.

Everyone in the security department wants safety to be the key element at any event, including dances. Knowing these situations are happening on campus increases awareness of the importance of keeping students safe from these behaviors. No one should be treated that way, Diaz said.

ASWU leadership proposed several measures for future lawn dances to make the event safer. The suggestions included setting up a barrier, holding the dance inside the HUB and having sobriety checkpoints. Suggestions will have to be reviewed by next year’s Stewart student leadership before any formal changes can be made after discussing the matter with the current leadership.

Contact Hayley O’Brien at hobrien16@my.whitworth.edu

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