Public safety forum gives guidance

By Olivia Sullivan - Staff Reporter

 Where is the line between freedom of speech and becoming a threat?

This question was raised at the Highline public safety forum last Thursday. 

More than 50 people attended the discussion to ask questions and listen to public safety officials talk about Highline's safety.

Allison Geen, an English professor at Highline, brought up a situation regarding a student wearing an offensive t-shirt printed with a derogatory term for homosexuals, and also changing their canvas profile picture to a photo of them wearing the same t-shirt.

 "Being offensive is different than being an intentional threat," said Toni Castro, the vice president of student services. 

While students, staff, and faculty have the right to express their opinions, it crosses a line when the opinion becomes discriminatory. 

"A threat is a statement of an intention to inflict pain, injury, damage, or other hostile action in someone in retribution for something done or not done," said David Menke, the director of public safety and emergency management at Highline. 

"Offensive is normally an attack on one's values and could be a perceived insult," Menke said. "The line is where there is an intention to inflict pain or injury, and Public Safety or law enforcement intervention is required."

Highline's student code of conduct explicitly states that students are prohibited from engaging in any discriminatory conduct which harms or adversely affects any member of the college community because of her/his…sexual orientation, according to WAC 132l-125-100 section 12. 

 Since there was no formal complaint or grievance filed, no action could be taken about the student's t-shirt, Menke said.  

Sometimes, the constitutional law conflicts with what is morally right and wrong, Castro said. 

While people may know the t-shirt is crossing a line morally, it is tough to decide when to take lawful action, she said. 

For situations like this, people of the Highline community are encouraged to report any conduct they believe is violating the student conduct code, Menke said. 

"They may report any student who is experiencing distress or engaging in harmful or disruptive behaviors," Menke said. "The alleged violations will be investigated by the college and handled appropriately."

SAIT is a resource service available for students, staff, and faculty to report any misconduct found on campus. 

SAIT stands for Student Assessment Information Team, and a lot of time and energy was spent on deciding the name, said Buzz Wheeler, a legal studies professor at Highline. 

The team aims to serve as the coordinating hub of a network of existing resources, focused on prevention and early intervention in campus community situations, according to the team's website. 

Highline's SAIT team includes Sgt. George Curtis from Public Safety; Rod Fowers, a psychology professor; Dr. Gloria Rose Koepping, a counseling psychologist; and Ay Saechao, the associated dean for student development and retention and conduct.  

"If anyone has a report about someone or a situation, we want them to say it," Wheeler said.

Highline's main goal is to educate those who are in the wrong, he said. 

"Our philosophy and practice is finding the right balance between the rights of students and of the college," said Ay Saechao. "It's our job to teach [students] how to be a productive member of our community."

The college seeks the truth and want to teach students when they have violated the college's code of conduct, Saechao said.

"It's not punitive, its early intervention," Wheeler said. "It helps the retention of students. It's a great tool we have."

The more people prepare by visualizing situations in their head, the more they never seem to need it, Wheeler said.

"We talk through what is happening," said Dr. Gloria Rose Koepping. "We're there to look at what the problem is, what are the potential solutions, and which one of us is going to follow up."

Since September of last year, there have been 72 reports over five quarters, Dr. Koepping said. 

The largest category of reports is witness reports.

"Putting it on Instagram is not a police report," said Sgt. Mike Graddon, a Des Moines police officer and criminal justice professor at Highline.

Reports vary from academic dishonesty to lewd conduct to petty theft. 

"Theft is one of the major things we have to deal with on campus," Menke said. 

Public Safety is a 24/7 service on campus that includes parking lot safety patrols, crime prevention, safety escorts, and trainings or assessments.

"You're not ever bothering anyone," Menke said in regards to requesting a safety escort.

"What we see in the community really mirrors what you see here on campus," said Sgt. Graddon.

From heroine to homelessness, it all trickles onto campus eventually, Sgt. Graddon said.

Controversy surrounding political beliefs has also made its way onto campus. 

"We are here to serve everyone," Sgt. Graddon said. "We are not going to ask you your immigrant status. It's as useless to us as your religion or financial status."

Highline protects every student's right to freedom of speech, even the screaming bible man often seen on campus, Menke said.

"This isn't the end of a conversation, it's the beginning," he said. 

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