An altercation in the parking lot of Lloyd Hall on Sept. 7 is still causing conversation on Maryville College campus.
The Judicial Board ruled on the case weeks after the incident, and the rumors of the punishments given to involved parties caused controversy on campus.
While the official rulings from J-Board are private, the police report involving the incident is public information.
The incident reportedly began when Ridgeway, who had allegedly been drinking that night, called one student, identified in the report as “Jethro,” a racial slur. An altercation followed in the parking lot of Lloyd Hall, when Ridgeway was knocked unconscious by Tanner Torres, according to the report. Witnesses reported that Torres and “Jethro” continued to hit Ridgeway after he lost consciousness, Ridgeway told police.
The report was filed on Sept. 18, when Ridgeway reported to police that he had suffered a severe concussion as a result of the Sept. 7 incident. The police report reflects Ridgeway’s recollection of events and does not include interviews with the alleged assailants.
At the time of the report, Ridgeway was told by the police how to file for a criminal summons but had not pressed charges. According to the records department of the Maryville Police Department, the case is still under investigation.
Controversy over the incident appeared later as students protested for “hate speech” to be added to the verbal abuse policy on campus. The students protested on Oct. 7 in front of Pearsons Hall during lunch hours after rumors of the J-Board ruling spread on campus. Many students were concerned that a verbal abuse charge was not given to Ridgeway.
This protest was the impetus for a public forum regarding the earlier altercation.
At the meeting held Oct. 9, students were welcomed to voice their opinions on the incident and how it related to the language of the Maryville College handbook.
Dean of students, Vandy Kemp, along with assistant dean Allison Norris were in attendance. They helped to mediate the discussion and clarify the rulings that were determined regarding the incident.
Student opinions on the issue led to a discussion about adding the wording of “hate language” to the Maryville College handbook, as such language is currently not present. Kemp and Norris both felt that this is a positive next step to take to ensure greater clarity in ruling on issues such as this in the future.
“Unfortunately, it takes an egregious incident like this, with emotional and physical injury sometimes, to result in meaningful conversations,” Kemp said. “This has put a face on [hate language] for the campus.”
The incident required a great deal of deliberation on the part of both the administration and J-Board, with J-Board meeting for over five hours to reach a decision.
Ultimately, the rulings that were handed down centered on determining just how to compare physical violence with the emotional damage that is brought on by verbal abuse or hate language.
“I accept that hate speech damages the person it targets,” Kemp said, “I have a lot of faith in our Judicial Board and our Judicial Board process. Some things are just easy–they’re black and white. Unfortunately, the emotional scars of hate speech are not always visible.”
For Kemp and the students who ruled in J-Board, the decision came down to the fact that physical violence is indeed illegal, and that while hate language is damaging and has no place on campus, the lines in this incident are more difficult to define.
Similarly, abuse that is deliberated upon and focused on an individual has different meaning than abuse that is randomly inflicted. As Kemp said, “When physical or verbal violence targets someone, it is different than when it’s just random.”
Because of the different legal implications of verbal abuse vs. physical assault, the students responsible for the injuries were given a more strict punishment. While the administration was not able to comment on the specific punishments for the students involved or give the names of the students, Norris was able to say that there were charges for verbal abuse, underage drinking and assault given to the respective parties involved.
Student reaction on the case was delayed as the J-Board ruling did not take place until weeks after the incident due to the nature of the J-Board selection process. Not only were the new members of J-Board being trained when the incident took place, but the incident also went through the appeals board. The J-Board deliberated over the case for five hours while the appeals board deliberated for three hours.
One change that Norris said she hopes to see come from this incident is the application process for J-Board. She hopes to begin the process in the spring, so that cases that have the possibility of occurring early in the academic year can be heard more quickly. The only students who would have to be trained in the fall would be the four students representing the freshman class.
Another change that both Kemp and Norris want to come out of this incident is adding hate language to the verbal abuse policy in the Maryville College handbook. Norris remarked that as soon as the incident happened, she began research other schools that have hate language in their policies.
“I think it’s brought up some painful but necessary discussions and realizations about who we are as a student body. Not everybody was brought up the same way or has the same beliefs. What I would hope is that we would continue to be very open and honest about these things,” Norris said, regarding the incident.
The student body has reacted by opening the door to such conversations. Norris said that the college handbook will have to be the guiding force for any changes. She also says that students have her support in making a change to include hate language. Norris stressed that she does not want students to lose momentum.
“I was proud of the student body for reacting the way they reacted,” Norris said. “Physical violence, verbal abuse and hate language… We don’t want to see those things on our campus. That’s not who Maryville College is.”