Category Archives: News

Bats, Infrastructure, and Lead Concern Students in Res Life

Sam Boudreau

News Editor

 

While working as a custodian over the summer at The College of Wooster, Debarghya Deb ’24 felt a sharp pain in his hand as he closed a window in Westminster Cottage. Deb looked behind a brick that held the window open. Behind the brick, he found a small and frightened bat.  “The bat bit me,” Deb said, “and I had to get like four shots of rabies.” 

Deb’s run-ins with bats did not stop there, as he now lives in Holden Hall, the epicenter of the College’s bat infestation. “I have seen many bats since I have moved in,” he said. 

Little Brown Bats (Myotis lucifugus) and Big Brown Bats (Eptesicus fuscus), have been the source of infestations in many residential halls and campus houses at the College. From the start of the semester to Sept. 2, The College received 40 cases of bat infestations in residential halls and campus houses. “The bat reports that we had have dropped significantly,” Director of Residence Life at the College Johnathan Reynolds said. “We have had a few, less than five, reports since Sept. 2.”

Due to these high numbers, the College held a “Student Conversation with Facilities” on Sept. 2. at Holden Hall’s courtyard. Mike Taylor, Associate Vice President of Facilities, Design and Construction; Mike Mathis, Manager of Services, Physical Plant, and Service Center; Tom Lockard, Service Center; Carly Jones, Housing Coordinator of Residence Life; and Reynolds discussed the College’s bat infestations with concerned students. 

At the meeting, Lockard and Taylor said the primary reason for bat infestations in residential halls is students leaving their room’s windows open without the screen window. “90 percent of the bats are due to windows and [student-installed] air conditioners,” Lockard said at the meeting. Lockard and Taylor said students need to submit a work order request, so maintenance can help fix window openings where bats may potentially enter the room and  identify other areas where bats may enter the room. 

“Bats in housing are not totally a student’s problem,” Taylor said, “we just need students’ help to solve this.”

At any time if a student notices structural problems or any other type problems they can submit a TMA Work Order Request through the link on the Facilities Management & Planning web page at inside.wooster.edu/facilities/. Students can also call the Service Center at 330-287-3500 (Monday to Friday between 7:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.) or call Campus Safety at 330-263-2590 (after 4:00 p.m. and weekends).

While students leaving windows open may lead to bat problems, residential halls with the most reports — Holden, Compton Hall, Kenarden Lodge and Wagner Hall — are all dorms without built-in air conditioning systems. When asked if there is a correlation between the lack of air conditioning units and increased bat reports, Reynolds answers affirmatively. “I would definitely say there is a correlation,” Reynolds said, “one of the things we have seen is that with the heat, students are wanting to open up their windows and put in their personal fans and, in some cases, personal AC units.” Reynolds said that installing personal AC units and fans may lead to a dislodged screen, a problem that dorms with central AC units, such as Bornhuetter Hall, Andrews Hall, Stevenson Hall and Armington Hall, do not have. 

At the meeting, Taylor said he understands that it is hot, but that students need to “balance” their comfort with helping to reduce bat infestations. “It’s been really hot and humid,” Taylor said, “but we got to balance comfort.”

Deb asked Taylor to what degree students living in older dorms need to compensate. “How much are we supposed to compensate?” Deb said. “We are paying the same amount for residence life as anyone else on campus.” 

While Holden Hall is in the College’s Master Plan to renovate, Taylor said at the meeting that “it is going to take time” to renovate the College’s largest residence hall. “There are two million square feet on this campus,” Taylor told Deb, “we really got to thoroughly plan what we renovate.” 

Criticism of the lack of residence hall renovations intensified with the College prioritizing the multi-million dollar Student Center transformation. “Holden is the biggest dorm and has the most people, and you treat them in the worst-possible way,” Deb said. “They’re renovating the Student Center right now, but, more than the Student Center, they need to renovate the older dorms like Holden.” 

Taylor listed the College’s most urgent problems in campus residential halls. 

“Most of the issues identified in our 2019 Facilities Condition Assessment (FCA), include aging roofing systems and aging building envelope systems,” he said. “When issues are discovered, the Facilities staff addresses those issues, or we secure the services of an outside company to help us address issues until full renovations can be scheduled over time.”

Campus Housing: Bats and Lead

The residents of Howell House, one of the College’s campus houses on Spink St., are no stranger to bats and out-of-date living conditions. “In our house, we actually have a board up with days since our last bat sighting,” said Lauren Kreeger ’23, a Howell House resident. Kreeger said that bats have been very prevalent in Howell House. “We’ve seen bats a lot,” Kreeger said, “It was at least once a day for a solid week.” 

Kreeger contacted the College’s Facilities Management and Planning, where they claim Tom Lockard denied the possibility of bats in the house. “He basically told us everything that we had observed was wrong,” Kreeger said. “He just did not do his job.” Kreeger and their housemates initially blocked off bat entries themselves. 

After meeting with Maintenance and ResLife, the College finally checked and identified the house for possible bat entries.

Additionally, Kreeger and their housemates cited structural issues with the house, including sewage problems, a hole in the shower wall and peeling paint on floors. 

“A lot of these things are things that could easily be prevented or would be fairly cheap to fix,” Kreeger said. 

Broadly, Kreeger and their housemates found a lack of communication with Facilities Management and Planning. “I do not think they listen to us,” Riley Maas ’22, a Howell House resident, said. “Maintenance does not treat us seriously.”

Lead in campus housing: 

While living in McDavitt House in Spring ‘21, Kreeger conducted an unofficial dust sample of the house for their petrology class. With the help of 360 Dust Analysis Program, a Citizen Science Project established by Macquarie University that “collects data on harmful chemicals in regular households,” Kreeger found “an abnormal amount of lead” in the house’s sample. “I think it had twice the natural soil limit,” they said. 

While the source of lead is unknown, Kreeger suspects the lead to be from the house’s paint. “That is what we think caused the elevated lead result,” they said, “ because there was paint in there, [such as] paint dust, paint chips, something like that.” 

Mike Taylor said that if there is lead in campus houses, then those elevated levels are likely due to paint. “Many houses built before 1978 have a good chance of having lead paint.” 

According to the CDC, lead overexposure  can lead to a multitude of health problems. Exposure to high levels of lead may cause anemia, weakness, and kidney and brain damage. Very high lead exposure can cause death.

“Now the lead was not so high that it necessarily poses an extreme health risk,” Kreeger said, “and if it is paint especially, it should generally be alright, except for maybe windowsills and general air flow because lead dust can flow around and people could inhale it.”  

However, Kreeger thinks the College needs to take steps to prevent future lead problems. 

“It is more about preventing a further issue down the line,” Kreeger said, “because I do not think the College takes very good care of the houses.”

After Kreeger’s findings, Taylor said the College conducted  further testing to identify lead in McDavitt. “McDavitt House was tested yesterday [Sept. 13] by our environmental consultant for lead paint,” Taylor said, “and we should have results from the testing back later in the week or early next week.” 

If lead is found in McDavitt house, Taylor said that the College will “encapsulate” the possible lead paint. “Across our campus, Facilities has painted over known lead paint using a recommended technique called encapsulation,” Taylor said, “which keeps it from becoming friable. Using encapsulants is the best and safest way to cover lead paint to prevent it from producing dangerous lead-containing dust. Encapsulants are thicker than regular paint primers and work to seal or ‘encapsulate’ the lead paint behind a membrane.”

ScotsConnect Simplifies Connecting with Student Organizations

Bijeta Lamichhane

News Editor

 

On Aug. 18, Director of Lowry Center & Student Activities Julia Zimmer sent an email to student organization leaders and introduced a new website that “serves to help students get connected with student organizations, events and other opportunities at Wooster.” The website, ScotsConnect, also helps student organizations streamline their programs and documents by simplifying the process of roster management, events approval and other obligations.

In the weeks since the launch of the website, LCSA has provided several training sessions for student leaders to navigate its features. Some of the features include a display of upcoming events, which can be sorted by organizations as well as categories. In addition, students can also access forms that allow them to register organizations and events as well as find organizations that suit a student’s interest. ScotsConnect also includes information about all of the student organizations that are currently chartered on campus along with the contact information of the current members. To join an organization, a student can simply open the organization’s webpage and click the “Join” button.

“I’m very glad that the College introduced this platform for all of us to connect and navigate our clubs because we have experienced several setbacks in the past,” said Sobika Thapa ’22, a member of the South Asia Committee. “The feature that I appreciate the most is that the website allows students to join and reach out to organizations easily. I remember struggling to find the contact information of student leaders last year because the website had not been updated with a list of the current members but connecting to other groups and leaders will be easier now.”

The platform will also help the LCSA staff, who are often overburdened with responsibilities of managing over 100 student organizations while remaining understaffed. As offices have had to be spread out across campus since the renovation of the Student Center, the platform will also save organizations from the hassle of visiting the LCSA office, which is no longer at the center of campus.

In addition to establishing a new platform for students to connect, LCSA has also been providing additional resources for student organizations to improve leadership as well as communication between LCSA and clubs. In April, LCSA introduced “Leadership Saturday,” a workshop for newly elected leaders to transition into their roles in their organizations. LCSA is also offering a mandatory financial training for student leaders to navigate finances for their organizations. Last year, the office had also introduced a monthly newsletter for student organizations to receive information and updates as well as keep up with deadlines pertaining to their clubs.

Staff Shortage and Renovation Increase Dining Issues

Bijeta Lamichhane

News Editor

 

Since The College of Wooster’s Student Center renovation began, spaces for students to engage and dine are significantly limited. Spaces like the Alley, the Pit, and Mom’s Café are no longer available. Although Campus Dining has adjusted their operations — by offering lunch and fourth meal in Kittredge and relocating MacLeod’s convenience store — students continue to experience issues with overcrowded and inconvenient dining locations. This issue has also increased due to the lack of staff members in Dining, which causes Old Main Café to remain closed.

Students have discussed  the main dining hall’s lack of seating during peak mealtimes. Many also expressed frustration over standing in line for a long time between classes.

“[Last semester], I avoided Lowry at noon before class, because I know the line to get in won’t give me enough time to eat a proper meal, but Knowlton is the same now, and Lowry is worse,”  Ezana Kiros ’22 said. “Kittredge is not as crowded, but it is far from where my classes are, so it has been difficult to manage mealtime with classes.”

Director of Campus Dining and Conference Services Marjorie Shamp acknowledges students’ complaints with the dining situation. “Campus Dining is aware of the long lines at Knowlton Café and during peak periods at the serving stations in Lowry,” Shamp said. “These issues are typical for the beginning of the academic year when students haven’t settled into routines but are compounded this year by a lack of adequate staffing. Our inability to open Old Main Cafe to start the academic year is contributing to long lines at Knowlton Café as well.”

The inadequate number of staff members in Campus Dining puts immense pressure on workers, especially those working when most students eat. A student worker in Campus Dining, Malachi Mungoshi ’24 mentioned that working in dining can be tiring. “It does get hard, pulling weight you’re not sure you really can,” Mungoshi said. “I can tell you that I go to bed thoroughly exhausted after every night shift though.”

Shamp echoed Mungoshi’s sentiment and talked about how the issues have imposed challenges on the dining staff. “This academic year is a challenge for every single member of the Campus Dining staff, from the cashiers right on up through the management staff,” said Shamp. “The Lowry Center Transformation project has added many obstacles to the efficiency of the operation. Kittredge Dining Hall is being utilized in ways it was never designed for.”

Shamp also clarified that changes in dining are more frequent due to COVID-19. “COVID-related supply chain shortages call for frequent menu changes” Shamp said. “National shortages of products like plant-based foods, all types of chicken products, disposable cups, and even the CO2 for the fountain beverages have us scrambling to find replacements on a daily basis.”

Despite the barriers, Shamp applauded Campus Dining staff’s work to improve the dining situation at the College. “The team in Campus Dining has stepped up and is working through every roadblock and change that comes their way,” Shamp said. “Yes, they are tired, but they are also providing great training to new staff, working through menu changes, product shortages, and all of the little issues that pop up on a daily basis” she said. “The College of Wooster is very fortunate to have such a great group of people working in Campus Dining. They continue to prove that there is nothing they can’t do.”

Mungoshi also expressed gratitude to his co-workers. “I am thankful to all my co-workers; they make my five-hour shifts feel shorter than they are,” Mungoshi said. “And my fellow student employees.”

Shamp provided reassurance that dining looks to improve their operations. “We have streamlined the smoothie menu to speed service and also routinely analyze the number of sandwiches and salads that are sold to increase as needed so that the menu is available throughout the day without selling out,” she explained. “We are currently looking into ways to further improve Knowlton Café’s efficiency. Lowry’s staffing level is steadily increasing, and that will allow us to open more stations and operate the dish room.”

To hire staff over the summer, the College increased their starting pay rate to $14 per hour. “Campus Dining actively hires new staff continuously,” Shamp said, “and we are now working with three staffing agencies to assist us with the search, with great success. New additions to our ranks are arriving weekly and are being trained on the various positions that are available.” 

To decrease wait time and accommodate dining staff members, Shamp recommends that students visit Kittredge Dining more often. “Kittredge Dining Hall has the capacity to seat 200 students and is typically only half full during lunch,” she mentioned. “It is a very quiet and comfortable location, and we are seeing the same students there quite frequently. An advantage to dining at Kittredge is that you can also stop into MacLeod’s Convenience Store while you are there, and of course, Kittredge offers an entrée, soup, a salad bar, panini grills for sandwiches or quesadillas and gluten-free waffles!”

The College of Wooster Continues to Navigate the Pandemic with Updated COVID-19 Policies

Sam Boudreau

News Editor

 

Testing 

Outside of testing students upon arrival, the College is only testing unvaccinated students on a regular basis this year. “We are not regularly testing vaccinated individuals,” President Sarah Bolton said. “The circumstances under which we would test vaccinated individuals are if someone has any symptoms, concerns or if someone was exposed to someone who tested positive.” The College’s COVID-19 testing policies for vaccinated students are unclear to some students on campus. “I don’t know what is happening with testing,” Fungai Jani ’24 said, who was only tested once upon arrival. Ezana Kiros ’22 agrees and suggests that the College should test vaccinated individuals weekly. “Just once a week and it makes you feel more comfortable,” Kiros said. 

The College plans to also implement testing for student activities that require a “specific interaction.”  “We are likely to do testing in particular situations where student activities require a particular interaction, such as theatre,” Bolton said, “our sampling may be driven by activity-to-activity.”

COVID-19 in Wayne County

COVID-19 transmission remains high in Wayne County, as the Wayne County Health Department (WCHD) reported 469 new cases from Aug. 29 to Sept. 4. “We are on a seven-week trend of increasing cases week-to-week,” said Wayne County Health Commissioner Nicholas Cascarelli. “Our positivity rate is 13 percent.”

While cases are high in Wayne County, unvaccinated individuals make up the majority of the cases. “Generally, we’re seeing anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of new cases that are vaccinated [individuals],” Cascarelli said. WCHD recommends that students traveling into Wayne County wear masks and socially distance indoors, regardless of vaccination status. “We’re just asking folks to continue to be vigilant,” Cascarelli said. “We are in high transmission.”

Bolton and the COVID-19 task force will meet on Tuesday, Sept. 7, to add guidance on traveling off campus and into Wooster and Wayne County. “I’m certain we will suggest that students and everyone, when they’re out in the larger community in indoor spaces, should be masked,” Bolton said. 

Masking 

The College requires vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals to mask indoors. Students have differing opinions on masking indoors, as some students say that vaccinated individuals should not have to mask indoors. “If we’re vaccinated, then I don’t see the point of wearing [masks] indoors,” said Simon Tesfaye ’24, “I’m vaccinated and I feel safe.”

However, Ethan Sayer ’22 believes we should continue to mask indoors. “I think it is good that we’re masking,” they said.

What if you test positive for COVID-19?

If a vaccinated or unvaccinated individual tests positive for COVID-19, they will stay in an off-campus location provided by the College for 10 days. However, vaccinated individuals who are close contacts do not need to quarantine, while unvaccinated individuals selected as a close contact need to quarantine in one of the College’s off-campus locations. “For isolation and quarantine, we have arrangements with various off-campus hotels for students,” Bolton said. Students can also choose to isolate themselves at home if they live within driving distance.

To keep up with academics in isolation and quarantine, the College expects faculty members to work individually with students. “In order to fully support their in-person classes, faculty will largely be using the many approaches to support students who have to miss class that they used before the pandemic,” Bolton said, “although in a few cases, new technologies may be a part of that mix.”

What if the College experiences a COVID-19 outbreak? 

As the school year starts, liberal arts schools with high vaccination rates are already experiencing major outbreaks. Kenyon College reported 46 cases among students since the start of the semester. The College of Wooster has a plan in place in case of a COVID-19 outbreak. The College has a three-pronged plan, (a) supporting students who may be isolated or quarantined, (b) reducing opportunities for transmission by reducing campus contacts and (c) increased testing — either broadly or in focused areas. To support students in isolation and quarantine in a COVID-19 outbreak, the College would expand isolation capacity and support students through the Dean of Students, Wellness Center and faculty members. To reduce campus transmission in case of an outbreak, Bolton said the College would take steps to move dining to take out, reduce the size of gatherings that are permitted on campus, and potentially limit travel off-campus or out of the area. 

Large Social Gatherings 

With 95 percent of students vaccinated, the college currently has no limitations on campus gatherings. Outdoor events, such as Scot Spirit Day, saw hundreds of students convene in close proximity. “In a largely vaccinated community, outdoor activities are relatively safe,” Bolton said, in line with CDC guidance, “some schools that have had larger problems are starting to require outdoor masking again.”

Sayer brought a mask to Scot Spirit Day to stay protected from COVID-19. “Not requiring masks outside is a tricky situation.” Sayer said, “When you get these big groups together, there is a question of where you draw the line.” 

Large Extracurricular Activities: Music and Theatre

Sayer also expressed their concerns about masking guidance in extracurricular activities on campus, as they play in music ensembles on campus. “I do not exactly know what masking policies are for music ensembles,” they said. “There were people with and without masks on.”  For music and theatre ensembles in unique settings, the College relies on faculty proposals for masking. “We ask the faculty in those areas to bring the guidance they have from their national organizations and their proposals for how that would work at Wooster to our COVID-19 task force for our consideration,” Bolton said, “and then we bring that to our medical advisors, if we have any questions before we finalize [their proposals].”

Sports 

For NCAA sporting events, the College of Wooster requires their collegiate teams to be 85 percent vaccinated, which all Wooster sports teams clear. In the NCAC, the College met with colleges in the conference to discuss COVID-19 guidelines and protocols. “Within the NCAC, we’ve been working throughout the summer to talk about what our shared expectations and understandings are about vaccination and testing,” Bolton said. Within the NCAC, only one school has not met the 85 percent vaccination threshold. Unvaccinated athletes and athletic staff in the conference are required to test weekly. 

Campus Dining 

With a limited number of dining options this semester, the College reestablished the Lowry dining hall’s maximum capacity. “The CDC guidance has been pretty clear that with a fully-vaccinated campus, you do not need to impose social distancing everywhere,” Bolton said, “so that is why we returned to having the seats all around the tables at Lowry.” The College opened Kittredge to help provide students with a smaller dining option if they are not comfortable in Lowry. “We understand that people have different comfort levels, so Kittredge provides that opportunity for a smaller space.” 

Vaccine Booster Shots

The College is also in the process of preparing to provide COVID-19 vaccine booster shots on campus this fall. “If we come to a situation where there are booster shots available, we will certainly make sure that those are available on campus,” Bolton said. WCHD currently offers third doses for immunocompromised individuals in the community. The health department recommends checking with your physician before receiving a booster shot. The health department has COVID-19 vaccine walk-in clinics each Thursday in September from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at 203 S Walnut St., Wooster, OH, 44691. The health department is also holding COVID-19 clinics throughout Wayne County. You can check the county health department’s website at https://www.wayne-health.org/coronavirus to find vaccine administration times, locations and available vaccine providers. 

After COVID-19

While COVID-19 continues to impact daily life, the College plans to offer additional summer courses in the future. The College offered two summer courses for first-year students in 2020 and established a “summer session” in 2021, which included 10 virtual courses. “Summer online courses were one thing that we invented in the pandemic that we really appreciated,” Bolton noted. Bolton also hopes students will use COVID-19 prevention strategies to help combat influenza, especially masking and not going to class if you’re sick. “When you are sick, you should not just plow through and go to class,” Bolton said. “Don’t just show up in class feeling terrible.” 

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Update Report

Samuel Bourdreau

Senior News Writer

 

On Sunday, April 25, members of the campus community met to discuss the annual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Update Report. The meeting was led by President Bolton and Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Ivonne M. García. The report shined a light on diversity, retention rates and challenges faced by BIPOC and underrepresented students, staff and faculty at The College of Wooster.

García told the Voice that “the College has improved both in the recruitment and retention of students, especially BIPOC and underrepresented students over the past several years. Since 2017, we have grown our BIPOC student population by 20 percent. Four-year graduation rates now stand at about the same for nearly all demographic groups, something that was not happening only a few years ago when Black and Latinx students, especially, experienced much lower rates of retention.”

However, Bolton and García noted that the campus is not the equitable campus that it needs to be as of now. “Our retention rate is not the one we aspire to have, and we know we have a lot of work to do to continue to make this College one in which all students feel they can stay and thrive, and that work will continue unabated,” García told the Voice.

While diversity and retention rates have increased on campus, Bolton and García noted that the pandemic has slightly affected these rates as it has “made it difficult for new international students to come to Wooster and, as the pandemic progressed through the year, we also saw a slight drop off from years prior of total new international students to Wooster.”

In the past two years, the College’s faculty continues to increase in diversity as 83 percent of last year’s incoming tenure track faculty identified as BIPOC or are from underrepresented communities.

However, García noted that the College is much less effective in retaining BIPOC faculty than white faculty. The College’s 2018 faculty retention study “showed that BIPOC faculty, especially Black faculty, do not tend to stay at the College.”

Results from the College’s Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS) Assessment in May, 2020 revealed that gender identity and racial/ethnic identities were the main reasons that students, faculty and staff did not have inclusive experiences at the College. With only 19 percent of students responding to the assessment, Bolton and García hope the 2022 assessment will yield greater student participation.

In response to this study, the College launched the Faculty Mentoring Cohort Program, now in its third year, modeled after successful BIPOC student-focused mentoring programs in the Fall of 2019. The program established cohorts of mentors and mentees rather than relying only on individualized or department-based mentorship. García told the Voice that the first year of the program was successful.

The College also hopes to improve the relationship with the broader Wooster community, particularly on Beall Avenue. When the Voice reported on the March for Asian Lives on March 26, Mochi Meadows ’24, Gender and Sexuality Diversity Representative for Scot Council, told the Voice that someone yelled “Go back to China” at the March, and a truck with a confederate flag drove by with a sticker that said “I don’t brake for protestors.” When asked how the College is taking their next steps with the local community at the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) meeting, Bolton said that signage and security resources have been added to Beall, but that there is room for improvement.

Starting June 1, Dr. García will undertake a position at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education to lead their work in inclusive and anti-racist pedagogy. As the College’s first Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion has greatly expanded under her leadership as she told the Voice that “before the academic year ends, the CDEIO will have trained nearly everyone in the Academic Affairs division, including faculty in departments and programs, administrative coordinators and Athletic staff in antiracist/anti-bias practices.” Additionally, the center has trained 50 student organizations and recommended that they establish antiracist/anti-bias action plan for future school years.

Sweeping the shadow of the past under the rug: How lack of recognition for historical harms still affects Wooster’s LGBTQ+ Community

Aspen Rush

Managing Editor

Maggie Dougherty

Editor in Chief

 

On April 12 at 4:33 p.m., The College of Wooster shared a message from the Board of Trustees on their Facebook page regarding the behavior of former President Howard F. Lowry. The message elicited a wide range of responses from a great number of alumni and students, quickly receiving over a hundred comments from members of the College community. A subset of these comments focused not on Lowry but on a different piece of Wooster history: the 1995 almost-presidency of Susanne Woods, who would have been the College’s first female president. Although the Board of Trustees never shared an official explanation for Woods’ stepping down, the alumni in the comments all held the same notion: Woods was dismissed because it was discovered that she had a female partner.

One alum wrote, “Let’s also address the dismissal of Susanne Woods [by the Board] because she was a lesbian in the mid-’90s while we are at it. […] I was appalled by the Board’s action then and I still see it as a blight on the history of the College.”

Charles Gall ’93 commented similarly, writing, “[It] would be lovely if the Board would do this kind of detailed and bulleted self reflection and pursuit of truth/restorative justice concerning the quiet payoff of Susanne Woods in the mid-’90s, after hiring her as president and then realizing she [was] a lesbian before sending her packing.” Others agreed, seconding the call for the Board to address Woods’ case and stating that they hoped to see justice for her. Another alum wrote, “The College owes a very public, comprehensive, genuine apology to Susanne Woods and an action plan to address past and present homophobia.”

Wooster in the 1990s was a very different place than the Wooster we know today. As one alum described, Wooster was a more conservative, “buttoned up” place, stuck slightly behind the rest of the world in a “sweet age” before swipe keys and cell phones. According to a Viewpoint written by Terry Miller ’90, in 1989, the College had not engaged in conversations about homosexuality in the campus comminity. Then, as they do now, Wooster boasted that they “celebrate diversity.” Even so, they did not have a non-discriminatory policy in place for LGBTQ+ individuals. Miller pointed to both students and administration alike for their exclusivity. The ’90s was also a time of more conservative social values, not just in Wooster, but nationally: The United States was a battleground between the progressive left and religious, conservative right.

While the ’90s seem like a recent past for many, public opinion regarding the LGBTQ+ community has shifted dramatically in the last 25 years. It was a decade punctuated by anti-gay legislation and hate crimes even as queer culture made its way into the mainstream. Madonna introduced voguing, Elton John came out, Pedro Zamora publicly battled AIDS and conversations about homosexuality entered public discourse. On the other hand, there was an endless list of politicians and civilians accusing gay and lesbian individuals of ruining the American way of life. Across the U.S., national and local governments attempted to pass anti-gay legislation.

In 1990, only five years since the peak of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, queerness remained interwoven with stigma surrounding homosexuality. The American public was fueled by homophobic rhetoric echoed by conservative politician and radio show hosts, like Rush Limbaugh.

In 1994, only one year before Susanne Woods was dismissed, The Employment Non-Discrimination Act made its way to the floor of the House of Representatives once again after repeated failure. The law, if passed, would have protected lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals from employer discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation. 

That being said, it was by no means unheard of to establish equality for gay individuals in the corporate sector. World renowned companies such as Xerox and AT&T publicly supported their employees and created anti-discrimination policies. Around the country, Wooster would have set the precedent for academic institutions in hiring their first woman president and their first lesbian president.

In this context, Susanne Woods was selected to be the first female president of The College of Wooster. Woods was chosen by a 16-person search committee tasked with finding Henry Copeland’s successor, made up of eight trustees and eight faculty members. Woods was an English literature professor who had received her doctorate from Columbia University, and at the time of her hiring was employed as the vice president for academic affairs at Franklin & Marshall College. At Brown University, she had been the director of graduate studies and the associate dean of faculty; she also founded the Women Writers Project. By all accounts, Woods was highly qualified in her scholarly, administrative and fundraising accomplishments. 

In April 1995, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees approved the nomination of Susanne Woods for president. Woods accepted the offer and was set to take office as Wooster’s tenth president on July 1, 1995. At the time, trustee and chairman of the search committee, John (Jack) Dowd, was quoted in The Akron Journal saying, “Our goal was to find the best president for The College of Wooster… and we have achieved our goal.”

The English Department, which was responsible for officially recommending Woods for tenure, was particularly excited to work with her. Nancy Grace, professor and chair of Wooster’s English Department at the time, stated in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “I was thinking, ‘Wow, this person is extremely qualified, I’m glad they appointed her.’” 

Grace described the move as an inflection point, a moment where the College was on the verge of taking a major progressive step by hiring a woman to lead the school. Except something happened, and the scales tipped in the other direction. On June 30, Woods’ resignation was announced in a statement released by the College, citing Woods’ and the Board’s mutual “deep regret” over “significant differences concerning the role of the president.”

Speculations have been made about what “significant differences” were missed throughout the entirety of the search process and only discovered in the week before Woods took office. Although the relevance of this information is contested by some of the parties involved, Emeritus Trustee Jerrold Footlick wrote in his book, “An Adventure in Education,” “The one piece of important information that no one appears to dispute is that Susanne Woods had a close relationship with a professor of English at Denison University, Anne Shaver.” 

Dowd vehemently denied that any prejudice was involved in the decision. In the Sept. 1, 1995 edition of the Voice, Dowd said, “I think I have heard almost all the rumors, and none of the rumors are correct.” 

Grace recalls meeting Dowd for lunch at the Wooster Inn to discuss her concerns. “He totally denied everything — he just lied straight to my face,” Grace told Footlick in an interview, the transcript of which is stored now in the College’s Special Collections. She elaborated to the Voice that Dowd told her the decision had “nothing, nothing, nothing” to do with Wood’s sexual orientation. Nevertheless, Grace recounted, Dowd shared no reasonable alternative explanation, citing the confidentiality agreement that Woods and the Board signed as a condition of her resignation; still, she felt that he was lying.

Despite Dowd’s assertion that Woods’ sexual orientation played no role, multiple articles from the Voice and the Chronicle refer to the circulation of the Denison phone directory on Wooster’s campus, in which Shaver listed Woods as her partner. Although it was openly reported that Shaver identified herself as a lesbian, Woods was, according to the August 4, 1995 edition of the Chronicle, “a very private person who does not describe herself as a lesbian or discuss her sexual orientation.” Nevertheless, at around the same time the directory began to circulate, so did an op-ed by an openly lesbian professor at Kenyon College, encouraging Kenyon’s new president to work closely with female presidents at the other Ohio schools, including “Wooster’s newly appointed president, lesbian Susanne Woods.”

Although there are different accounts of the exact transmission of information, the details made it to the trustees and, according to a source who spoke with the Chronicle at the time, a few of the trustees met with Woods to ask her about the directory and the rumors. The full Board was alerted on June 20 that there would be a phone conference on June 29 to discuss Woods’ contract, and the next day, Woods resigned as president-elect. 

Reactions from the Wooster community to the Woods resignation were swift and strong. Carolyn Durham, a professor of French and coordinator of Wooster’s women studies program, told the Chronicle that she was “shocked and dismayed by the news.” She added, “It’s difficult for me to understand how there could have been ‘disagreements about the role of president’ that would not have been discussed prior to her appointment by the Board.”

In an interview conducted for his book, Grace told Footlick, “I can remember the day I heard, I just burst into tears — I really burst into tears. It was like we’d been stabbed. I cried, when [Emeritus Professor of German] Susan Figge told me, I just cried on the phone.” 

In another interview, Footlick asked another professor of English, Jennifer Hayward, if the English department felt angry about the decision. “I don’t know if even angry is the right word,” she answered. “I think it cut deeper than that. I think we felt betrayed. I think we felt as if we had this wonderful woman who was going to make connections for us with major funding institutions and with really exciting text projects like the Brown [University] project, and was going to bring all kinds of new ideas. Then, there was never a clear explanation for what happened.”

Wooster alumnus Charles Gall graduated in 1993, but was still living and working in Wooster in the spring of 1995. In the same edition of the Voice that shared a comprehensive interview with Woods, introducing her as president-elect to the Wooster community, there was an announcement that Judd Winick — roommate of Pedro Zamora, AIDS educator and MTV star — would be visiting campus to talk about Zamora’s life. As Gall listened to Winick speak, he said, “I realized how much Pedro had accomplished in the five short years between coming out and his death, and it made me think that here I was, still in the closet at 24 in small-town Ohio, living in fear. When I returned home that evening, I gathered the courage to come out to my roommate and his girlfriend, which began my coming out process to family and friends.”

Reacting to Woods’ departure just a few months later, Gall said, “As a newly gay alumnus of Wooster, the Woods situation was highly disappointing. For a college that openly promoted diversity and that engaged Winick to speak on AIDS education just months prior, the announcement was a confirmation that all the talk of diversity, at least as it related to sexual orientation, was simply lip-service, and that there was no way the Board was comfortable supporting a gay President who would be the face of the College and chief fundraiser.”

Since 1995, there has still been no official explanation for what happened because of the confidentiality agreement signed by all parties involved. Although the incident happened over 25 years ago now, it still lives on in the memories of many alumni and faculty who were here at the time, as well as in the way that current LGBTQ+ students interact with the institution. 

One of the clearest reminders of the Susanne Woods controversy is the John Plummer Memorial Scholarship for Promoting a Welcoming Campus for LGBTQ+ People. During his years working as the comptroller of the Wooster Business Office, Plummer was one of the only openly gay individuals on campus and served as a mentor to many of Wooster’s LGBTQ+ students. 

Following Woods’ resignation, Plummer and alumnus Hans Johnson ’92 discussed what could be done to support LGBTQ+ students on campus, and Plummer suggested the possibility of creating a scholarship. In an interview in 2018, Johnson recalled, “The Susanne Woods episode was a searing and stinging rebuke for people who respected LGBT rights and met for many of us who were LGBT ourselves. It wasn’t just us, but a whole network of allies was deeply offended by that move and by the signal that Wooster would discriminate in such a high, and such a highly exposed way in its expression of values.”

Though Plummer died in 2006 before the dream for the scholarship could be realized, Johnson continued advocating for its creation and by 2008 the endowment threshold for the scholarship was reached. Speaking to the importance of the scholarship in light of the case of Susanne Woods, Johnson said, “the Plummer Scholarship became an acceptable way for many deeply offended people to give to the campus for the purpose of institutional change, and I think we succeeded in that.” 

Eleanor Linafelt ’20, a women’s, gender and sexuality studies (WGSS) and English double major, learned about the Woods story in the spring of her junior year while working on the WGSS digital history website. She said, “I was shocked by the story, of course, but also by the fact that I had never heard anything about it before, especially as a queer student and WGSS major fairly engaged in Wooster campus life. It occurred relatively recently but it does show how easily things can be lost in the institution’s collective memory, especially things that aren’t to be proud of.”

Outside of those researching the topic, recipients of the Plummer Scholarship may be some of the only students who hear directly about the Woods situation, and through them this history is remembered. Harry Susalla ’22, the 2021-22 recipient of the scholarship, told the Voice, “When I first found out about this moment in Wooster’s history, I was completely disappointed that the College made no effort to educate its students on its homophobic past. If the College publicly addressed this history, it would show me that they have a real commitment against bigotry, not just a performative one.”

Similarly, Mylo Parker-Emerson ’19, the 2018-19 Plummer scholar, recalled a sense of shock over hearing the story for the first time. “When I was in college right around the time it had been announced that Sarah Bolton was going to be the new president of the College, rumors started to go around about a previous President that was fired/never fully hired because she was a lesbian,” Parker-Emerson said. “I remember hearing this and being shocked because I knew about the Plummer scholarship. I remember thinking to myself how progressive of a school in 2014 to have a scholarship like this available.” They continued, “Hans describes [the scholarship] as a response to not only the silence of Wooster administration but also the blatant disregard to the queer students on campus. Which is ironic if you think about it; I was shocked that both of these things existed and yet one caused the other.”

Director of Sexuality & Gender Inclusion Melissa Chesanko also commented on the silence and its impacts both on alumni and current students. “The huge silence about the situation due to the non-disclosure agreement creates a vacuum that folks often try to fill with speculation and pieces of the truth,” she explained. “Because there has been no formal or informal resolution for the situation, many people have been unable to heal from the harm caused and also unable to move forward.”

Gall similarly spoke to this harm, stating, “In the 26 years since, there are still hurt feelings among gay alumni that this has never been addressed publicly.” He added, “Many of us (gay alumni) would like to see the Board address the handling of the Susanne Woods situation and perhaps issue an apology for their actions in 1995.”

Reflecting on how the incident relates to current students, Chesanko explained, “We often understand our own experiences through a lens of others’ experiences, and witnessing a negative climate for alumni in the past can put students’ own perspective of campus into a different light.” She also noted that the negative experiences of LGBTQ+ alumni from past decades has translated into more limited alumni engagement, “which affects students’ connections with queer and trans alumni, LGBTQIA+ centered donations and queer representation on our alumni board.”

Parker-Emerson spoke to the limited alumni engagement as well, saying, “To me, [the silence] highlights the continued effort of queer students and alumni and how that differs from institutional support. In a way it makes sense that older queer alumni aren’t as engaged, because think about what their version of the Wooster administration has showed them: silence.” 

They added, “Personally, I think if the College were to finally speak on this publicly, it would show students and alumni that they’re not alone in caring about making the College a better place, and not just for queer folks, but for every person the College goes out if its way to attract. To get to a better place, it’s best to be honest about where you’ve been and what you’ve done before.”

Finally, Chesanko emphasized the importance of representation at all levels of campus leadership. “Past leadership has put current leadership in a difficult situation by crafting this N.D.A.,” she said. “This is why it is so important to have diverse representation of all identities in positions of power, including and especially, on our Board of Trustees.”

The original 1995 Chronicle article detailing the Woods situation quoted Durham, who argued, “They didn’t need to know or not know” about Woods’ sexual orientation. “What they needed to decide is,” read the article, “can we handle it if the president is [gay]?” Without openly addressing that question at the institutional level and acknowledging the hurt that still lingers 26 years later, will Wooster be able to provide students the diverse and accepting campus it has always claimed to be?