By RJ Walters / For the Jackson Citizen Patriot
An Albion College student who witnessed the burning of a gay pride flag on campus stepped forward and apologized Tuesday, a day before the college president issued a statement nearly a month after the incident took place.
Freshman Salaina Catalano apologized to Break the Silence — a student organization promoting the rights and awareness of lesbians, bisexuals and gays — for standing by as she watched two students burn a small gay pride flag Oct. 18.
She said she picked up the torn flag from a trash can outside of Baldwin Hall and the other students lit it on fire behind Wesley Hall.
Catalano said the students she was with knew she supported gay rights and was a liberal but “were very intimidating and manipulative people.”
She said her guilt propelled her to turn herself into Campus Safety where she signed a written statement about the incident. She said the college told her to keep the matter to herself.
“I’m sorry and I’m using this to make up for the fact I didn’t stand up then. The college is trying to keep it a secret in a way and I’m trying to do what I know to help anyone who needs it,” she said. “They told me not to talk about it.”
College President Donna Randall said in Wednesday’s statement, “The College has taken the situation very seriously and followed its established policies and procedures in investigating the situation and determining what should be done.”
Junior Eric Highers and freshman Andy Leyder, whose roommate was one of the two students involved in desecrating the flag, reported the incident to Campus Safety on Oct. 19.
They said they wonder why formal punishment hasn’t been announced.
“Initially I was very pleased with how it was handled,” said Highers, who is a former president of BTS and current member, “and (we were assured) that there would be some degree of some sort of disciplinary action.”
Catalano said Campus Safety’s investigation of her role ended Nov. 1 without any punishment and the other two students have not been punished either.
Randall said the college has taken necessary action.
“Privacy laws (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) prohibit me from providing information about the actions taken against those individuals,” she said. “I want to make it very clear that the College condemns harassment of any member of our College … and I feel confident that those involved will not participate in such acts in the future.”
Highers said the administration dropped the ball by insufficiently addressing a serious situation in a timely manner.
“All they had to do was address this incident, take swift action and all of this crap wouldn’t have happened and it would be over with,” he said. “At the minimum I just wanted them to condemn this act.”
The flag burning — and lack of response by the college — prompted the creation of a website, www.albionpridepetition.com, on which people were encouraged to refrain from donating to the college until “President Randall publicly repudiates this act and takes action against the perpetrators.”
As of Wednesday night, 465 people had signed the online petition since its creation Monday.
Highers said suicides stemming from bullying have been prevalent in the national media lately, and with the burning of the flag during National Coming Out Week, the college missed an opportunity to show it stands for the diversity “it tries so hard to sell.”
Junior Mark McGraw said he is disappointed by the administration’s response, but the outreach of faculty members and fellow students have given him hope.
“The most significant aspect for me is I have been completely moved — on Facebook, online or through interactions on campus — with how much support there is for the GLBT community and how many people wanted to know any way they could help,” he said.
The college also released a written statement Wednesday from Sally J. Walker, vice president for student affairs, about its diversity awareness programs and other programs designed to make the campus safe and supportive of all people.
Albion College’s Intergroup Dialogue Project is intended to “increase the number of Albion students trained to facilitate dialogue and promote civil discourse among their peers on issues which, in the collegiate culture, are too often ‘off limits,’ politically incorrect, or too sensitive to broach in day-to-day conversations outside of class, e.g., race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation,” the statement said.
It also provides Safe Zone Training for college employees and students who can publicly identify themselves as being allies of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning community.