Wallys controversy sparks conversation, change in dorms

By Claire Desmarais | April 24, 2018 5:59pm

The Wally Awards controversy continues to spark discussion about not just the event itself, but larger issues of misogyny, rape culture and sexism. Some of the more intimate conversations are taking place in residence life communities across the University of Portland campus, some of which have organized events to bring residents together to share feelings about the incident and discuss how to move forward. 

In response, residence life communities on campus have begun to offer initial support through discussions among residents, resident assistants, hall directors, assistant hall directors and many other parts of the dorm communities. The result of Sundaram’s speech has led students to expand the issue from discussing it to implementing change within the dorms. 

Villa Maria Hall hosted a town hall-style discussion on Monday night to discuss what Villa can do moving forward in these next few weeks, according to Matthew Connolly, Villa Maria hall director. 

“We talked about what we were doing as a community,” said John Herrmann, a junior living in Villa. “And just making sure that we are cognizant of our roles of being good allies to those who are affected by sexual assault.”

Connolly also said Villa is working on implementing Green Dot bystander training for all residents starting in the fall when new students move in. He explained that some leaders in the dorm are also working to craft a conversation to have with freshmen next year about respect and what they can do as individuals to continue to work toward a better, safer campus environment. 

“We are probably going to have a series of talks, probably working with Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA) and Lauretta Frederking, Title IX coordinator,” Herrmann said. “Hopefully we have these early on in the year (2018-2019 school year) to establish a culture of being against sexual assault and sexual violence.” 

On Tuesday, Lund Family Hall held a town hall-style discussion inviting all the residents to openly talk about the incident. Students wrote on a whiteboard and discussed their feelings about the incident in small groups.

Some of the questions Lund hall director Mike Wode asked students to discuss were: “How do we feel? And, what can we do as Lund Family Hall and University of Portland?”

Some of the words on the whiteboard read: “disappointed, worried, confused, objectified, unfathomable.” 

Herrmann said Villa has also been working with other dorms to create a joint statement expressing how they each will implement concrete change.

“The reason we are trying to make this a bigger conversation is that we don’t want to make this just a Villa thing,” said Matthew Linhart, a junior Villa resident. “We want everybody on campus to take this seriously because this is a serious issue.”

Christie Hall’s weekly “chat” was focused on discussing the Wallys incident and how language impacts others, according to hall director Nathan Widdicombe. Widdicombe said that during these “chats,” Christie residents typically talk about what it means to be a man, issues students face in college and overall programming to educate residents on various issues. 

“This is a space to examine what we say, and even question out loud things you may have said,” Widdicombe said. “This is not a space to aggressively condemn, or call for specific action, simply to dialogue ways in which we can be better.”

Other hall directors, such as Morgan Hanson from Mehling Hall, have been inviting students to a space to encourage them to listen to one another. She said her initial step was to make sure students pause, reflect and share before they talk about what should have happened or what needs to happen next. 

“My job as their hall director has been to help Mehling students feel valued and supported as they wrestle with this issue,” Hanson explained. “And to make sure that my own behavior and treatment of community members honors and holds up these values of respect, human dignity, and equity and equality.”

Many of the leaders within the dorms have been working closely to create the best way possible to address the feelings students may be experiencing. They also seek to provide a space for all to have a healthy dialogue about ways to respect one another. 

Some RAs in Shipstad Hall and Haggerty/Tyson Hall have individually reached out to their residents to offer support and invited residents to talk to them about the incident, according to Shipstad Hall Director Yvonne Ayesiga and Haggerty/Tyson Hall Director Tyler Hale. 

And some dorms are trying to change their culture altogether. 

“It’s important for Villa to continue the conversation because no dorm, community or club is perfect,” Connolly said. “If we want to change a larger culture, we have to look to the most local level and start there.”