Willard opts for mediation of photo safari complaint

Michelle Ma

Student and faculty leaders of Willard Residential College recently chose to engage in a conciliation process after Residential Life filed a complaint about an event Willard held during New Student Week.

The complaint states that the voluntary event — a photo safari — violated the Northwestern Student Handbook’s hazing law, said Willard President Sophie Huterstein.

The letter of complaint — directed to Willard through University Hearing and Appeals System — was filed about two and a half weeks ago, said Huterstein, a Weinberg sophomore.

According to the Student Handbook, complaints filed against one party can go two directions — either the parties can engage in a discussion monitored by an independent university Conciliation Board to reach an agreement, or a formal conduct hearing can take place.

Conciliation is the option Willard prefers to take, Huterstein said.

“(Conciliation) is a situation of compromise (where) we can see what each party wants,” she said. “We hope a compromise will be reached.”

Huterstein said she believes the complaint filed may be in response to information published about Willard’s photo safari in a past Daily article.

Huterstein said to her knowledge, no Willard students have complained about the photo safari.

Residential Life officials declined to comment on the issue because the UHAS conciliation meeting still is pending.

All of Willard’s New Student Week activities, including the photo safari, were optional, Huterstein said. The New Student Week photo safari differed from a scavenger hunt — which is directly prohibited as hazing in the Student Handbook — because there were no benefits to finishing or prizes at the end, Huterstein said.

“The photo safari was a tour of downtown Chicago,” Huterstein said. “It allowed freshmen to see things in the city they might not otherwise see and (to do so) in big groups,” she said.

Photo safaris are popular events for some residential colleges to hold during New Student Week, Huterstein said. Students from both Public Affairs Residential College and International Studies Residential College said their colleges put on similar events during New Student Week. Both were quite popular, students said.

About 130 freshmen went on Willard’s photo safari, not including the many sophomores who participated for a second year, Huterstein said.

Willard students were split into groups of about 15, with two Willard dorm government members in each group, Huterstein said. Groups received a list of recommended places to go in Chicago and take photographs.

“It was completely up to each group where they would go,” Huterstein said. She added that students could choose to be in pictures and could refrain from participating in any of the activities.

“Nothing different happened this year,” Huterstein said. “It was tamer than years before.”

The Willard photo safari is at least three years old, and this year’s was similar to past photo safaris, she added.

Cathy Breen, who participated in the Willard photo safari, agreed with Huterstein’s take on the nature of the event.

“If you didn’t feel comfortable doing (something), you didn’t have to,” said Breen, a Weinberg freshman.

Some of the events on the photo safari included jumping into Buckingham Fountain and posing as mannequins in front of The Gap, Breen said. Most of these activities were written on the list distributed to groups, but some group leaders made up events during the photo safari, said participant Steven Miller.

Students were not pressured to do an event, said Miller, a Weinberg freshman.

Reach Michelle Ma at [email protected]