By Maegan Clearwood
A recent altercation between two Washington College students ignited controversy regarding how such incidents should be addressed and the prevalence of sexual discrimination on campus.
Verbal assaults regarding freshman Charlie Glowacki’s role as a homosexual teenager in the play, “Spring Awakening” ignited the conflict, and many question how the administration handled the situation.
Glowacki was suspended immediately following the incident. His was unable to participate in “Spring Awakening,” and his role had to be recast the opening week of the show.
“I was really frustrated at first with the situation, because I was suspended solely on the fact that I wielded a lacrosse stick in self defense,” Glowacki said. “According to school policy, if I had only used my fists, I would still have been able to be in the play because I didn’t use a weapon. The part that disgusted me was that I was the only one with any evidence of physical injuries. The school officials and Public Safety officers saw the injuries and the absence of any physical injuries on [the other student] and still proceeded in my immediate suspension because they had to follow the policy.”
According to Director of Public Safety Jerry Roderick, the situation was dealt with no differently than others of its kind. “We have to look at how to ensure the safety of students involved,” Roderick said. “There are conditions laid down for one or the other or both as to how they are going to remain on campus.”
Senior Jory Peele, director of “Spring Awakening,” faced serious challenges following Glowacki’s suspension, and felt that incident could have been handled differently.
“I feel like there was too quick of a snap decision made that had a negative effect on other people as opposed to only those directly involved in the fight,” Peele said. “I think Charlie should have been allowed to continue with the play and stay on campus, but with a little more of a watchful eye. He shouldn’t have been punished before an official hearing. To remove him from campus and the play was a snap decision that ended up negatively affecting a large amount of people. There was no thought process of how it would affect a wider range of people.”
Freshman cast member Taylor Goss, on the other hand, felt that the administration dealt with the incident appropriately.
“I feel the situation was handled well,” Goss said. “Charlie needed to get off campus because he attacked someone with a weapon. It was probably good to get him off campus for a few days because, if for no other reason, I think the other student and his friends might have come after him for revenge. For Charlie’s own safety, it was for its own good.”
According to Roderick, the assault occurred on March 20 at 7 p.m. outside of Wicomico. Chestertown police were notified of the incident and called Public Safety to investigate.
“On the investigation, we were notified of what had occurred,” said Roderick. “When the confrontation started outside the building, it resulted in a fist fight, which was short lived. One student returned back into the building a short time later, and came out with a lacrosse stick handle in his hand and another confrontation ensued at that point.”
Public Safety officers spoke to witnesses, then forwarded the report to student affairs. According to Roderick, “alcohol was a factor with both parties.”
Although the physical altercation had serious consequences, it was what sparked the confrontation that was controversial.
“Apparently, the two students knew each other and there had been some exchange of words throughout the day between the two,” said Roderick. “During the evening, there was a confrontation between the two which led to physical confrontation. The one student was active in preparing for a role in a play. The character in the play is what sparked some of the comments from the other student. There were some sexually biased comments that were used and escalated to conflict.”
Cast members struggled with the sudden absence of their fellow actor, and had to readjust in order to prepare for the performance. Peele found out about Glowacki’s suspension the Monday before the show, and had to work quickly and recast the role.
“At first I was stunned by the fact that it was so close to the show, but I didn’t have time to react. I started thinking about who could replace him,” Peele said. “Most of the cast was pretty upset by the immediate response that took [the student] away and off campus, especially with such short notice.”
Although the incident meant that Peele needed to make changes with his production, it brought to light how pertinent sexual discrimination is on campus. “Spring Awakening” deals with many serious issues, including homosexuality, and cast members were enthused about representing sexual diversity following the incident.
“It made the show feel important,” said sophomore cast member Marta Wesenberg. “It’s not just a show that was written in 1890; it’s still prevalent today. The problems aren’t gone. They’re just closer to being gone. When the show was translated into English for the first time, it had one night on the English stage, then it was banned. Now it’s loved worldwide. The fact that so many people are drawn to the story shows that those feelings of hating are starting to go away, but obviously they’re not completely gone…I felt like I was doing the right thing by being in the show and representing something that was a bit more risky.”
The situation energized the cast and reaffirmed its meaning, despite the complications it caused.
“It was relevant in that what caused the whole altercation was the lack of acknowledgment of such ignorance, intolerance, harassment and abuse on campus,” Peele said. “I think one of the biggest problems on this campus is that there’s no acknowledgment of [sexual discrimination] from administration and those in power. They’re not acknowledging it, and so some students don’t even realize that they’re doing it. They make fun of it or make jokes about people and don’t realize they’re harassing people. Then there are the people who know they’re doing it, and there’s no consequence.”
Because the situation ended violently, Roderick enforced the fact that there are more constructive ways to address discrimination on campus.
“There are a lot of avenues as to how we respond to acts of aggression or hostility,” said Roderick. “There’s a lot of avenues on campus in which students can process a complaint about bad behavior. There’s a place that gives them a means to express these behaviors. We want to them to know what the campus processes are and know that there are harassment and discrimination policies that could have easily addressed the situation.”
Goss, however, felt that Glowacki’s decision was more complicated than simply being unable to ignore the verbal assaults.
“Either he could have gone to Public Safety like the school wanted to and curled his tail between his legs and make himself a target, someone who can’t defend himself, or he could stand up for himself,” Goss said. “I think what should be highlighted is Charlie’s choice.”
The incident illuminated sexual discrimination’s prevalence at WC for Peele. He felt that the school needs to make improvements in terms of its harassment policies.
“I think for one thing, [WC] needs to be more clear about what’s expected and what’s not,” Peele said. “When they give out the handbook, [the policies] need to be publicized and made aware of to students early on. Another factor is the incoming freshmen each year. You need to press it upon the incoming freshmen that these are the things that are not tolerated, and this is how you as members of this campus can keep that kind of discrimination or harassment from happening. They need to be aware of more consequences, and there need to be more consequences for verbal harassment, because that’s what leads to physical harassment.”
For Wesenberg, enforcing respect for sexual diversity around campus is necessary to create a more open environment for those who feel discriminated against.
“I think people who do have things they could be teased about should be able to step forward and feel like they can seek justice for what happened without feeling they can be ridiculed,” she said.