After a year of being almost exclusively online, Whatcom Community College’s campus is starting to open again for spring quarter. While classes are still online, study pods have begun to open up at the new Phyllis and Charles Self Learning Commons and the Orca Food Pantry has reopened.
The Associated Students of Whatcom Community College (ASWCC) recently approved a position statement that recommends creating a smoke-free zone on Whatcom’s campus.
Whatcom’s Vice President for Administrative Services Nate Langstraat said, “Because this was a student proposed recommendation all voices need to be heard.Faculty and staff members smoke as well so their voices need to be heard as well.”
“At the time, college leadership is requesting feedback before continuing our work with the ASWCC to finalize a plan that can be implemented during summer 2014,” said Whatcom’s President Kathi Hiyane-Brown in a memo released May 8 related to these recommendations.
Whatcom’s campus, however, does not currently have designated areas that are smoke-free zones, said ASWCC Student Senate President Lucas Nydam. The position statement recommends the courtyard area between Syre Student Center, Laidlaw, Heiner, and Baker Hall become a smoke-free zone.
Nydam said that he thinks the administration is “in-favor” and “supportive” of creating a smoke-free zone on campus. “Whatcom’s campus is one of the few community college campuses around Whatcom County that still allows smoking on campus,” he said.
This decision was arrived at after the ASWCC surveyed 300 students and discovered that 65 percent of those students were in favor of designating the Syre courtyard as a smoke-free zone, said Nydam. He also said that the survey discovered 70 percent of students surveyed were either “bothered” or “very bothered” by smoke on campus.
The survey asked students,”Do you believe that the Syre Courtyard and area surrounding the Heiner Fountain should be smoke-free?” The survey also asked, “Of the choices below which best describes how you feel about secondhand smoke on campus?” with the possible answer of, “not bothered,” “bothered,” or “very bothered.”
“Creating a sense of community on campus is hard to do at a community college, but by offering students a smoke-free area in the courtyard, they might be more inclined to use the courtyard,” Nydam said.
Whatcom student Sonja Haehnel, 22, said, “I am all for making the courtyard smoke-free, I personally don’t have an issue with the smell of smoke but my sister who has asthma said that when she is hanging out in the courtyard the smoke triggers her asthma.”
Determining where a new smoking shelter can and cannot be placed is an issue, Nydam added, because new buildings and the area around them have to be smoke-free zones in order to comply with the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification requirements.
The Bellingham Herald reported that these new buildings will be the Learning Commons, which construction is set to begin on in late summer 2015, and the 22,725 square-foot expansion to Pavilion which is set to begin summer 2014.
In order to accommodate students, the Student Senate has proposed the construction of a new smoking shelter on the south west side of Syre, Nydam said. He added that Syre is an older building so does not have to maintain LEED requirements.
Langstraat said that meeting LEED requirements is common practice for construction of new buildings on campus, adding that meeting these requirements is what has forced the conversation about creating a smoke-free area on campus to move forward. Whatcom’s Auxilary Services building was the first to gain LEED certification and since then the conversation about smoking on campus has progressed.
“There has been talk about relocating the smoking shelter outside Heiner, to co-exist with the newly proposed shelter outside Syre. This would double the smoking shelter size,” said Langstraat. “There will not be ticketing for smoking in the courtyard but if someone is caught smoking in the courtyard they will be asked by a faculty or staff member or even by another student to go over to the designated smoking area instead.”
May 22 the College Council, which is made up of administrators, faculty, staff, and students, metto discuss if the Syre courtyard will be smoke-free, said Langstraat. He said he believes that the administration is in general support of the recommendation and if the decision to move forward is made then signage will be placed in in the courtyard over summer 2014.The signs will state that the courtyard area is smoke-free and that smoking is only allowed in smoking shelters.
Whatcom student Jack Johnson, 19, said, “I smoke and I am not bothered by having to walk to a designated smoking shelter so I would not mind if the courtyard area in front of Syre became a smoke-free zone.”
However, Whatcom student Marlo F., 18, said, “I don’t think that making the courtyard smoke-free will work. My friends smoke all the time in the courtyard and choose not to use the smoking shelter outside Heiner because it is just too isolated.”
Whatcom student Maya Cunningham, 23, said, “I am for making the courtyard smoke-free. If the smoking shelter is just around the corner it would not be too much of an interruption to walk over to it.”
Currently Syre, Laidlaw, Heiner, and Baker Hall, the four buildings that surround the courtyard, abide by the Washington Clean Air Act which states, “Smoking is prohibited within 25 feet of all building entrances,” as reads the sign posted on every entrance in all four buildings.
Attention is being called to sexual assaults on college and university campuses by the Obama Administration because “one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college,” said a newly established White House Task Force team in an official report released on April 29.
At Whatcom Community College, of the 10,700 students currently enrolled, roughly 6,000 of those students are women. If this statistic holds true, about 1,200 female students at Whatcom have been a victim of some form of sexual assault.
However, campus crime statistics indicate that, since 2010, there have been no reports of sexual assaults on campus, in non-campus buildings or property, or on public property, according to the 2013-2014 Whatcom Community College Campus Safety Report.
“Our campus safety report shows low campus crime statistics,” said Whatcom’s Vice President of Educational Services Trish Onion. She said that while campus safety has always been a top priority, “after a student was murdered on campus in ‘95 during a domestic violence dispute, safety on campus has been even more of a priority.”
The incident Onion is referencing was the murder of Whatcom student Krystal Way, 25. She was having a domestic dispute with estranged husband Mark Way, 37 on Whatcom’s campus in ‘95, according to the Seattle Times. Police said that Krystal was shot and died at the scene, and Mark was charged with assault and murder. A plaque in memory of Krystal sits under a tree outside Cascade Hall.
“I have never witnessed any fights or assaults but we are a fairly open campus so anyone could bring anything with them that could potentially harm someone else,” said Whatcom student Michael Perez, 22.
On January 22 President Obama established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. This is “a team mandated to strengthen federal enforcement efforts and provide schools with additional tools to combat sexual assault on their campuses,” as was stated in the official report.
Though no sexual assault cases have been reported this year to Whatcom officials, there have been four or five domestic violence cases that have, said Onion. Domestic violence cases are handled with a heightened sensitivity on campus, she said, and each of the students who have reported cases this year have restraining orders against their said party.
The college is given copies of these orders along with pictures of the restrained party. By keeping these records Whatcom officials, counselors, and teachers can be made aware of the situation and “act as watch-dogs for the student,” said Onion.
Many of Whatcom’s policies have been or are in the process of being changed to comply with new policies created by the Task Force, Onion said. She added that the biggest change being made is the college’s policy on handling reports of sexual harassment.
“We are working with our lawyers to change our campus discrimination and harassment policy and procedure,” Onion said, adding that changes are already being made.
Currently, the college is not required to start an investigation until criminal proceedings play out, she said. The new policy requires the college to step in immediately.
“I have never seen inappropriate conduct on campus. It doesn’t happen because too many people are around, someone would step in immediately and stop it,” said Whatcom student Jenifer Huyett, 19.
Another big change made to the policy is that the victim will now be able to know the consequences the perpetrator is faced with, whereas before confidentiality took precedence. If the victim wants to appeal any decision made by the college they can, said Onion.
Along with policy and procedure changes the Task Force indicated in their report that more programs aimed at bringing awareness to faculty, staff, and students surrounding sexual assaults are needed.
Onion said that an online resource, similar to a webinar, will be provided for Whatcom students in the near future to increase awareness of sexual assault and how to prevent it. Other outside resources may be used in the future as well to educate faculty, staff, and students about sexual assault, Onion said.
NotAlone.gov, a website launched by the Task Force, provides information for students, schools, and other community members on how to respond to and prevent sexual assault on college and university campuses.
Whatcom also has two counselors that are able to provide support to students in need of crisis management, Margaret Vlahos, and Malcolm Oliver. Both can be contacted through the Entry and Advising Center.
To reach students as quickly as possible in case of emergencies, Rave Mobile Safety, an emergency text message system, will be coming to Whatcom as well. Alerts will be sent to students via text message when emergencies or other dangers on campus occur, said Onion.
Colleges and universities such as Western Washington University have implemented similar precautionary measures in cases of emergency, such as emergency telephones dispersed around campus that connect students to campus security or 911.
“In four or five years … we will explore other technologies that can help students in cases of emergencies, such as the blue emergency alarms that are on most campuses, but by then who knows what the new technologies will be,” said Onion.
“No more turning a blind eye or pretending it doesn’t exist.” said Vice President Joe Biden in a statement he released on his concerns about sexual assaults on college and university campuses. “We need to give victims the support they need, like a confidential place to go, and we need to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
The official student newspaper of Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, Washington