Fear Inspiring Change

Jayme Middleton

Days before Thanksgiving break, fear and panic swept over the LaGrange College campus. Fear turned into anger as news spread of a possible attempted kidnapping. Students spent what should have been a relaxing break calling for change, some fearful to return to campus. Students doubted whether they were safe on their own college campus, a place for learning and education. Not a place to fear for your health and security.

On Thursday, November 21, Troup County’s Emergency Response Center received a call at 8:52 P.M. The female caller reported that they had heard a female screaming while near a red Silverado pick-up truck. The caller was unable to provide the truck’s direction of travel and declined meeting with the responding officer.

At 8:57 P.M., an officer arrived to conduct an immediate area search for the truck, which they were unable to locate. This was standard procedure for LaGrange Police Department, due to the fact that the 911 call did not indicate the female had called for help or that there was any evidence of a kidnapping.

At 9:09 P.M., Securitas received a call from a male individual about the incident, but he also declined to meet with security. After this, administration and security reached out to the individuals and asked for an email summary of the incident. The campus area manager on duty went to meet with students across campus to answer any questions and calm immediate fears.

Word spread rapidly on social media and by word of mouth on campus. A wave of fear engulfed LaGrange College as the story was changed and adapted. Different versions of what happened were told on platforms such as Twitter and Snapchat. Talk of this incident being connected to sex trafficking led students, especially female students, to fear walking out of their dorms after dark.  Dean of Students Brian Carlisle noticed the fear, and sent out a school wide email in order to try and address what was happening.

The email only fed the flames. Parents were informed, as well as alumni, from those on campus. This fueled anger and distrust against administration as more people stepped forward to voice their grievances. Without fully understanding what happened, students assumed that administration was simply ignoring the situation and that nothing would be done. Dean Carlisle assured me nothing could be further from the truth.

Dean Carlisle’s main priority on campus, he said, was for students to have an environment where they are comfortable and free to learn. This includes students feeling protected and safe on campus. In fact, Carlisle has a special focus on sexual assault cases. In the year and a half he has been a part of the LaGrange College faculty, Dean Carlisle has focused on training. He has brought in specialized sexual assault training for faculty, athletes, and Greek life students. Before joining LaGrange College, Dean Carlisle had spent years being an advocate for sexual assault survivors and has been assisting with sexual assault judications since 2000. This was not a matter he was willing to take lightly.

While school administration is at a standstill without the involved students’ emailed reports, President McAlexander met with Dean Carlisle in order to develop a plan to help students feel safer on campus. This resulted in the formation of a security task force, co-chaired by Carlisle and our Student Government Association president, Dylan McCullough. This task force will focus on what security changes can be made to campus. They will be conducting a search over Jan-Term for what could be done and forming a proposal to submit to the cabinet. Dean Carlisle mentioned lights in the Egypt parking lot were a common request from people on campus, and said that suggestions from students would be taken into consideration.

When I asked what students could do until the task force changes are put in place, Dean Carlisle had a few tips for students. Of course, he first suggested walking in groups of two or more. When I brought up that this was not always possible, especially with everyone’s conflicting schedules during finals season, Carlisle reminded me that Securitas is always available to escort students anywhere on campus. This can include from your parked car to your dorm or even from the library to one of the surrounding residential buildings. “Granted,”  Carlisle mentioned, “please remember that Securitas does patrol all the way out to the CEB. It may take them a minute to meet you at your location. If possible, give them a few minutes’ notice to ensure they are ready when you leave your location.” Securitas’ cell phone number is 706-412-0503. This will allow you to instantly get in contact with campus security wherever they are.

I also discussed with him what students could carry for self-protection. LaGrange College is a no weapons campus, including items such as stun guns and knives. However, students are allowed to carry pepper spray on campus.

Students are encouraged to report any person engaging in suspicious behavior. “Don’t hesitate,” Carlisle said. “Contact police and Securitas if you see something that seems out of place or dangerous on campus.” Overreaction to something that seems dangerous is a much better option than to ignore it and put yourself or other students in danger.

There are also multiple apps so that students can keep up with each other for their safety. Phone apps such as Life360 can help you keep an eye on your friends when they are traveling around town and on campus. iPhone users have the option to share their location indefinitely with specific people through iMessage. Also, keep in contact with your friends. Let a someone know what time you should be somewhere or return to campus, and ask them to call you or someone else if they cannot get in touch with you at that time.

“The facts of the situation do not take away from the fear that students feel,” Dean Carlisle said. “Whether or not police and administration found enough evidence, students are afraid. My job is to be a student advocate, but the students have their own voice.” Whether or not it seems like it, LaGrange College is taking steps to ensure that students can have a safe campus. This incident brought about an opportunity to listen to student concerns about safety, security measures, and how administration responds in these types of situations.

Jayme Middleton is a junior English major, psychology minor from Hogansville, Georgia. She is the 2019-2020 editor-in-chief for The Hilltop News, as well as a member of the LaGrange College Marching Panthers.

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