A working group gathered Thursday afternoon to discuss the final revisions of a report on the Fountain Avenue incident that occurred last May. While some finishing touches still remain, the final report will be sent to President Michael Roth soon, and released in either full or condensed form to the University community in the next seven days.

Last May, five students were arrested when about 200 students gathered on Fountain Avenue after Public Safety officers broke up several parties. Arrests were made after PSafe and, later, the Middletown Police repeatedly tried to clear the street, eventually using pepper spray and attack dogs on students who did not comply with their requests. The incident, which prompted immediate media coverage and student uproar, created a large amount of rumor and here say as to what actually occurred. Committee members explained that, with various versions of the night’s events floating around campus, the decision to form an objective group to analyze the issue was both straightforward and necessary.

“There was a lot of misinformation or partial information going around, and obviously lots of different perspectives about the situation,” said Michael Whaley, vice president for Student Affairs and the chair of the committee. “We decided quickly that we needed a group to reconstruct, in a clear and concise way, what actually happened that night.”

President Roth, Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) President Mike Pernick ’10, and Whaley met just a few days after the Fountain incident to discuss the night’s events. The committee, which was established shortly thereafter, is comprised of Whaley, Pernick and three other members: Vice President for Diversity and Strategic Partnerships Sonia Ma—’jon, Vice President for Finance and Administration John Meerts, and Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Faculty Joe Rouse.

The group of five was chosen carefully, based on both qualifications and logistics.
“It is complicated even to get a group of people to be able to meet over the summer,” Whaley said. “So we wanted it small, but representative—and I think it does represent faculty, staff and students.”

In addition to having various members of the campus community in the group, the committee also strove to utilize contrasting viewpoints of the night in its assessment of the situation.

While the committee did not contain any members of PSafe or the Middletown Police Department, it worked closely with each of these groups. It also used various other sources, such as written accounts from dozens of students present at the scene, as well as brief tapes of the incident filmed by PSafe.

With an aim of objectivity, the committee’s primary goal was to compile all available information about what occurred and identify any discrepancies between accounts.

“What emerged is that it is clear to us that there were many different perspectives and expectations of what was happening that night,” Whaley said. “Students viewed what they were doing as a peaceful type of celebration while PSafe and the police clearly saw it differently.”

Director of Public Safety David Meyer echoed these sentiments, noting that, while the night may have seemed like harmless partying to some, he and his squad have other factors to keep in mind. It is those factors that occasionally lead PSafe to take more drastic actions, such as calling the police.

“There’s the what-ifs that go through my mind,” he said. “What if a drunk driver were to drive through this filled street right now and kill 11 people? What if a fight were to break out in the crowd?”

Whaley explained that people have also taken issue with various aspects of how the incident played out.

“There were some people who were concerned with what students did that night, some people who were concerned with what PSafe did, and some people who were concerned with what the police did,” Whaley said.

The committee’s evaluation of these discrepancies will serve as the first section of the report. In the second section, the group will present what they believe is a factually and temporally accurate description of the night’s events.

“It was really important that we put together a pure description of the events,” Whaley said.

While the group found that the descriptions and evaluations of the event varied from person to person, most people conceded that the night was a snowball effect of mishaps—and that there is enough fault to go around.

“It was a perfect storm of events that night that came together with extremely unfortunate results,” Whaley said.

Pernick agreed, explaining that no single party can be completely culpable in such a complex situation.

“Don’t get me wrong, some students definitely could have acted better, but I think that it would be disingenuous and wrong to blame this on the students,” Pernick said. “Everyone needs to share the blame here.”

In the aftermath of the conflict, a column in the Hartford Courant was critical of student conduct during the incident, suggesting that their actions that night—as well as during the upheaval that followed—were the result of misplaced, overzealous activism. Whaley disagreed with this assessment of the situation.

“I think that people who have said that students were just sort of ’fighting for the right to party’ that night are operating without full information of what happened,” he said. “In my opinion, that comment is pretty off-base.”

As a culmination of its work, the committee report will end with a list of ongoing concerns and policy questions. At a future point, particular concerns will be delegated as either immediate or ongoing projects to the specific campus authorities most relevant to them.

“Both PSafe and the police have been really forthcoming and willing to consider their own policies and procedures—not saying that what they did was wrong necessarily, but just basically recognizing that this is an outcome that no one wanted,” Whaley said. “I hope students will approach the situation from a similar standpoint. Basically we need to ask, ’What can we learn from this?’”

Meyer shared these sentiments, noting that PSafe looks forward to reading the committee’s assessment of why that night went so wrong.

“We’ve done this same thing—shut down parties—a million times, and with the police there too, and we haven’t had these results,” Meyer said. “Why this time? I think that is where the committee will help us see the light.”

Pernick noted that, while he feels that the release of the committee’s final report is a step forward, the most vital actions are still to come.

“What I hope comes out of this is policy, not just talk,” he said.

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