As the clock struck 11:30, students and staff settled in at Heiland Theater in the Boyd Cultural Arts Center on Thursday. The room grew quiet as College President Jim Reynolds approached the podium.
“Before we get started, I’d like for us to gather together in the manner of Friends and take just a moment of silence to clear our minds and prepare for our conversations,” Reynolds began.
The theater grew silent and still, which became a recurring theme throughout the gathering.
On Oct. 30 of last semester, 19-year-old student Tyler Lawrence was involved in a hazing incident while pledging for Gamma Phi Gamma, aka the Gobbler House, which caused him to lose a testicle.
After a few months, Reynolds sent an email inviting all the campus community to gather on Feb. 20 to discuss how to move forward after the incident, stating that it would not “be a time or place to try to place blame or judgment on any individuals.”
This meeting was held after Reynolds overruled a permanent ban of the Gamma Phi Gamma fraternity.
“My purpose was to apply what I believe are the college’s values in trying to find a solution for this that provides a sanction that recognizes the damage that has been done, but offers the opportunity for rehabilitation,” Reynolds said.
The sanction includes a five year suspension, no housing exemptions until the fraternity is back in good standing, and members being prohibited to wear any items that identify them as members of Gamma Phi Gamma. There will also be no new member rush or pledging, no social events, and no SGA funding until the end of the sanction.
With the counsel of Dan Kasztelan, Terry Miller, and Stephen Potthoff, Reynolds states that this group was there to “help me gather my thoughts and to work with me to develop a framework by which to seek healing, reconciliation, and the capacity to live up to our core values.”
“I certainly feel that Jim’s decision was warranted. I am not optimistic, however, that these kinds of incidents won’t happen again since most of us know that hazing has been going on for years in spite of the organizations pledge not to engage in these activities, which are in violation of the law,” Miller said. “In my heart of hearts, I just don’t feel that Greek organizations belong on a small, Quaker campus such as ours.”
At the gathering, Reynolds made some opening remarks and then campus minister Dan Kasztelan explained how the meeting would proceed.
“We’re going to start out with silence to allow people to gather their thoughts…and then we’re going to try to let anyone who wants to speak, speak from the silence,” Kasztelan said. “We’re all ready to listen to anger…we’re focusing on finding a way to speak the truth to each other.”
A listening panel of six individuals sat alongside Reynolds and Kasztelan on stage. According to Kasztelan, these individuals are those “who represent Greek and non-Greek students, who represent faculty, who represent student life, and who represent staff” and would be taking notes during the meeting.
Five minutes passed in silence until the first person spoke, explaining that what “we do matters to other people” and that “we need to look beyond ourselves.”
Several other students and staff members spoke of disappointment, anger, and sadness.
“The news got to my family in North Carolina…and it was really hard trying to explain to them everything that happened and then try to still tell them that Greek life isn’t all bad,” Kappa Delta member Rachel Beck explained.
Many brought up issues with Wilmington College’s reputation, stating that it was one of the first things listed on any Wilmington internet search. Also, several Greek members have been questioned about their Greek letters.
“People still stop me when they see me wearing my letters and say ‘Oh you go to Wilmington College, isn’t that where blah blah blah happened?’…and I’m just frustrated,” Beck said.
One student expressed anger that it took so long to have the meeting.
“Many students today at the meeting seemed to believe this was no big deal and also suggested that taking so long to discuss the issue, we are punishing their ‘family members’ or are ‘beating a dead horse’,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds believes that a lot was left unsaid.
“It is hard to try to find a way to move forward when much is left unsaid and when some are dismissive of the incident as if it were no big deal,” Reynolds said. “I was hoping that this would be a good start to becoming a more self-reflective and caring community.”
From a student perspective, Beck appreciated the meeting because she “felt like it was finally okay to talk about the subject in public with open hearts and minds genuinely listening,” but she too felt like a lot was left unsaid.
In the end, this is one step on the road to recovery for Wilmington College.
“I hope to see bonds grow stronger between all Greek organizations. I also hope that we will be able to mend our relationship with the immediate community and, by extension, those surrounding us,” Beck said. “This recovery period will play a vital role in Wilmington College’s future and I believe healing the community is the next step.”