The following message was sent to the Lycoming College campus community on Friday, April 21.
To the Campus Community:
The past week has been a painful, unsettling, and frightening time for members of the Lycoming College community. We have been processing reports of hateful and threatening words directed toward members of our community that had planned a drag show as well as those who were going to attend. We have made clear that the reported words have no place in our community. We have stated that those words are an affront to the College’s core values, including freedom of expression and welcoming and embracing diverse identities.
During the past week, we have also been heartened by the support extended by so many community members to those most deeply impacted. We have discussed the situation at the Faculty Meeting, a Gender & Sexuality Alliance (GSA) meeting and Student Senate. The administration and the Williamsport Police have also been moving forward with investigations. Finally, we have also initiated conversations with GSA leadership about rescheduling the drag show.
We have also been advised that it would be helpful if the administration explained more about why it is important to stand up for the idea of holding a drag show on campus. Drag shows are understood to be a genre or type of performance art that prompt reflection on how gender identity is shaped and formed. It is this understanding of a drag show that leads to our expressed view that the reported threatening language is also an attack on the principle of freedom of expression and our commitment to foster a culture that welcomes and embraces diverse identities.
We are now in a position to share more about the circumstances that prompted the decision to reschedule the GSA sponsored drag show. Around 6:30 pm on Saturday, April 15, Dean of Students Dan Miller received a phone call from one of Lycoming’s GSA student leaders reporting that another disturbing incident had taken place and that the planners and performers were frightened for their physical well-being. Dean Miller then contacted President Trachte and summarized the information that had been shared with him:
A male had approached a student in the Recreation Center while wearing a “mask,” asked the student if he was attending the drag show, and then said to the student “you are lost.”
President Trachte then spoke directly with one of the leaders of the GSA, and Dean Miller and Director of Public Safety Holly Bleam went immediately to campus. With limited time to assess the situation, Dean Miller and President Trachte made the decision that there was too much risk involved in holding the event that evening.
We can also now share more information about the reported incident in the Keiper Recreation Center that comes from Public Safety’s subsequent investigation. We now know that the words were spoken to a student working at the desk just inside the main Lamade entrance. That student has now clarified that they heard the person wearing the mask say, “your loss” rather than “you’re lost.” The report also notes that the person making the comment is male and was accompanied by two other males. The person working at the desk has not been able to identify either the person wearing the mask or the other persons. This investigation continues, but it does not now present as posing the same level of risk as it did at 7:00 pm on Saturday, April 15.
On Monday, April 17, Dean Miller and I provided updates, answered questions and listened to community members in three different fora: the Faculty meeting, a meeting of the GSA that was attended by more than 70 students, and Student Senate. We left those meetings with many excellent ideas about how the administration can work with students toward a more inclusive and safer community, including enhancing the security of the campus, increasing educational opportunities for all members of the campus community, and holding people accountable for hate speech and threatening words. We are committed to reviewing all the suggestions and taking both immediate and longer-term actions. We want to thank all who attended and shared their thoughts and concerns.
The College and the Williamsport Police continue to investigate the threatening and hateful words overheard in the Dining Hall last week. Specifically, the Williamsport Police spent several hours on campus on Wednesday, April 19, interviewing students who might have information that would assist in identifying the individual(s) involved in the conversation in the Dining Hall that was the subject of our previous communication.
The College has now also communicated about the incidents and stressed our commitment to freedom of expression and cultivating a culture that welcomes diverse identities with the news media; and articles have appeared in several places. The April 14 message is also posted on the College’s website and linked to the College’s Instagram and Facebook accounts, and this one will be posted as well.
Community members with any information about either the reported Dining Hall or the Recreation Center incidents should contact Public Safety at 570-321-4064 or Security@lycoming.edu to make a report. An anonymous report can be made using the incident report form, or the RAVE Guardian app that allows for anonymous reporting. Officer Clint Gardner is leading the Williamsport Police investigation and can be reached by email at CGardner@cityofwilliamsport.org for confidential reporting as well.
Finally, we want to share that a group of faculty members are organizing a gathering on the quad (tentatively “An Hour of Pride”) for next Wednesday (April 26) from 12-1 pm. Plans are still developing but the general plan is for a festive celebration in support of our LGBTQ+ community. The organizing group plans to send an invitation to attend to the campus community soon.