Pranks Upset Staff
KATY BURNELL AND JUSTIN TONEY
With 15 years of UMW housekeeping under her belt, Roslyn Woolfolk thought she had seen every college prank in the book, but nothing could have prepared her for what she and her co-workers found in the fourth-floor refrigerator of Jefferson Hall.
Cleaning personnel were shocked to find a box once containing a plus-sized blow-up doll and two posters making light of slavery and pedophilia resting among half-eaten gallons of ice cream when they opened the community freezer for a post-break clean on Oct. 15.
The ladies summoned campus police to the west-side common area, which was littered with trash and food—-some of which coated the walls.
Woolfolk said that although the ladies were accustomed to dealing with the fourth floor boys’ notorious messes they had never experienced anything as offensive as the poster showing a white man with his arm around a sobbing black man which read “Slavery Re-instated: Catch yourself a good one.”
“I was just mad,” Woolfolk said. “We may need a job, but we don’t need nobody doing us like that.”
The resident who originally printed out the posters, Rob Mariani, said that the ladies were over-reacting.
“It’s not their job to be offended,” Mariani said.
When the ladies demanded that the responding officer do something about the posters he told them that there was nothing he could do.
“This was a freedom of speech issue,” said Kauffman, “I cannot do anything legally.”
Fourth-floor resident Paul Carter, the self-proclaimed purchaser of the blow-up doll, said that the housekeeping staff was not justified in their anger.
“That’s their job—-to clean up after us,” Carter said. “My maid at home doesn’t complain, so why should the cleaning ladies?”
Despite the fact that this incident is the latest in a series of behavioral issues, according to the boys’ RA, Casey Jackson, no disciplinary action has been taken. They have not been issued any fines, which are discretionary on the part of housekeeping and residence life staff.
“We don’t like for the kids to get fined, so we try to give them a chance,” said housekeeper Desie Ragland, who has worked on the fourth floor of Jefferson for three years. “You usually just have to talk to them a few times to get them to straighten out, but these boys just won’t listen.”
Jackson said that the boys are not listening to her, either.
“It’s been pretty difficult, they’ve been pretty rebellious,” Jackson said. “They’re like little beasts,” she added.
In response to RA and staff complaints, Residence Life asked Area Director Bethany Friesner to hold a community-building meeting for the fourth-floor offenders.
“I did not go up there to tell them to shape up or ship out,” Friesner said.
Freisner, who lives on the first floor of Jefferson, said that she has not been able to identify the individuals responsible for the blow-up doll and posters.
She views the meeting, which focused on community building, as a success. “I think they were sincere,” she said. “My hope is that a seed was planted in the back of their minds.”
Friesner calls it a community-building meeting, but the fourth floor boys have several different names for the most punitive measure that the school has taken against them to date.
When asked about the meeting, most residents described it as “sensitivity training.” Mariani, however, called it by a different name when he shouted down the hall to a group of eight fellow residents hunched over an Xbox.
“Hey guys, when did they call the slavery meeting?” he asked.
Friesner hopes that her meeting will discourage them from further offensive acts. “Now we kind of wait and see what happens,” Friesner said.
Fourth-floor resident Ryan Gallasch, who attended the meeting, sees things differently.
“I think that everyone was lying to get them off of our backs,” Gallasch said.
Mariani also expressed his dissatisfaction with the meeting.
“They were like blah, blah, blah, slavery, slavery,” he said. “We’ve had multiple meetings for equally stupid things.”
Residence Life Director Chris Porter said that compared to other incidents that she has dealt with in her 21-year career, this is not the worst.
“I’ve had to deal with people defecating in front of buildings, urinating in ovens—-there’s really little that shocks me anymore,” she said.
Still, Porter said that she could understand why the housekeeping staff was so alarmed.
“Things like this leave an impression because they are so heinous. They’re so full of hate,” Porter said. “You can’t make sense of things like this.”
Mariani’s next-door-neighbor, Stephen Smith, insisted that the posters were not intended to insult the cleaning personnel.
“It wasn’t a shot at them,” Smith said. “[Mariani] puts funny signs up all the time.”
Mariani said that he was not responsible for posting the signs in the freezer, although he did offer that he had printed them and placed them on his door for several weeks prior to the incident.
Fellow resident Paul Carter, who currently possesses the “Fatty-Patty” blow-up doll, said that he appreciated Mariani’s sense of humor.
“I thought the sign was hilarious,” Carter said. “I guess it wouldn’t be funny if you were black.”
Acting President Rick Hurley urges students to be more mindful of others.
“Students need to understand that their pranks are not always perceived to be funny by everyone else, and, in fact, may be offensive,” Hurley said. “I certainly hope our students will learn to respect the staff who work so hard to keep their residence halls clean.”
Chief of Police James Snipes said that despite the poster’s racial overtones, the act could not qualify as a hate crime.
“Under the hate crimes statutes, it would have to be directed at someone. In this case, no crime has technically occurred,” Snipes said.
Fourth floor resident Francis Ha, who was the target of a birthday “Fatty-Patty” prank by his hallmates, said that he could empathize with the housekeepers’ plight.
“It was a harmless prank, but I can see where they are coming from,” Ha said. “Some of us reason that it’s their job to pick up our trash,” he continued. “Yes, it’s their job, and yes, it’s our job to be more responsible.”