By Vanessa Moss and Lucy Rudman
On the night of Sunday, February 11, panic swept the student body. Rumors circulated about police searching institutions across campus. In reality, the search was limited to one fraternity; no other dorms, fraternity or sorority houses searched, and no police from Franklin County or canine units were involved in the process.
Nonetheless, a haze of misinformation had settled on campus that night, growing as rumors ricocheted across student groups. Word of police searching spread out across campus: group messages were abuzz with claims of canine units, systematic searches of dorms, and students running to the woods to hide their glass bottles.
According to the Housing Contract, which all residents of on-campus residence halls, “A search of a student, a student’s possession, or a student’s on-campus residence may be authorized by the Dean of Students Office or by the Sewanee Police Department if there is reasonable cause to believe that prohibited or unlawful activity has occurred or on reasonable belief of a health and safety violation or concern.”
The search was consensual, and Sewanee Police Department (SPD) Chief Marie Ferguson explained that, “had [the individual] not given consent, [they] would have sealed off the house and obtained a warrant.”
Rachel Champagne, the new director of Community Standards for Sewanee, manages the Student Conduct Board, dealing with student violations of law, and revamping the EQB Guide for student conduct. February 11 painted “a clear example of the search process,” she explains.
“It’s interesting to see what caused this widespread panic, because ultimately this wasn’t an extraordinary event.”
The standard nature of the search led Champagne and the SPD to be perplexed by the rumors of systematic searching and canine units. Champagne believes the spread of misinformation is rooted in students’ unfamiliarity with the EQB Guide. The Guide is 35 pages long, detailing with every aspect of campus living from keeping pets on campus and parking registration to drug and alcohol policy. She hopes that it may be shortened, or made somehow more accessible for students to read and reference.
In regards to the searches, she emphasized that “similar situations are routinely handled this way throughout the country, on and off college campuses. The majority of incidents at Sewanee that result in a police search for illegal drugs, include suspicious activity that is apparent to anyone in the area.”
Chief of Police Marie Ferguson was also eager to dispel false reports of police searching other Greek organizations and dormitories, and the presence of canine units on campus. “We want to be transparent, especially when the rumor mill is running fast.”