By Annie Hunter, Managing Editor
Young Harris College President Cathy Cox held a meeting Nov. 3 to inform students about the recent events concerning the threat letter found on Sept. 13, the alleged attack in the Senior Village on Oct. 19 and the arrest of YHC student Joshua Simmons.
Simmons, a junior from Cisco, pled guilty to making false statements to law enforcement and is currently being held at Towns County Jail for the next two months. Simmons admitted to planting a threat letter directed at YHC students, lying to the police, attempting to frame another student and staging an assault. Because Simmons pled guilty and has been sentenced, Cox was now able to divulge the details of the events leading up to his arrest to the student body.
“The purpose of the student debriefing meeting was to allow students to hear directly from YHC administration about the recent campus incidents and how the situations were resolved,” said Denise Cook, director of communications and marketing at YHC. “The meeting was informative and successful and provided students an opportunity to ask questions and offer feedback on how the matter was handled.”
More than 60 students attended the meeting. Campus police and staff from the offices of Student Development and Advancement also attended the meeting.
Following the detailed account of the investigation and arrest (a summary of which follows), students were allowed to ask questions and make any comments on how the matter was handled. Overall the feedback was positive, with several students praising the manner in which the investigation was handled. During the meeting Simmons’s roommate expressed gratitude towards YHC police for professionally handling the incident in the Village.
One student voiced concerns about Simmons’s role as a police cadet. Ken Henderson, chief of Police at YHC, assured her that all cadets undergo screening and that Simmons had nothing in his background to indicate he was capable of such behavior.
Another student asked about visiting Simmons. Henderson suggested calling the Towns County Jail to confirm the days and hours for visitation. Susan Rogers, vice president of Student Development at YHC, reinforced that while Simmons is not allowed on campus, students can go off campus to meet with him.
Cox concluded the meeting by stating that YHC is a family, and no student should hesitate if he or she needs to speak with someone about these events or has any general concern. Lynne Grady, director of counseling and psychological services CAPS, is available for anyone in need of counseling.
The administration, police force and Grady have been working everyday on closing this investigation since the discovery of the letter.
While commenting on the success of the investigation, Cox said it is still a tragedy as it involves a member of the YHC family.
“The campus has been put through a hell of a trauma. There’s nothing good about this story other than we closed the loop and can feel good about where we are,” said Cox, calling Simmons’s situation heartbreaking.
Following the debriefing, students expressed relief and appreciation for the meeting.
“We were kind of kept in the dark, but I understand why,” said Rebecca Fordyce, a sophomore art major from Oglethorpe. “It’s good to really know what’s going on now.”
Ashley Eschbach, a freshman history education major from Key West, Fla., echoed Fordyce’s sentiments.
“I was surprised, he didn’t seem like the type to do this,” said Eschbach. “There were so many rumors. It’s good to know what really happened.”
The Threat, Investigation and Arrest
The following account of the events since Sept. 13 was provided by Cathy Cox, president of YHC at the meeting with students.
Just before 7 a.m. on Sept. 13, Cox received a phone call to her home from Henderson informing her that a threatening letter had been discovered on Maxwell Center.
The note read “Bang. Bang. You can’t stop it. Students die today.” A housekeeper had found the note rolled up in the door handle of one of the main doors on the front of the building. Cox said emergency protocol was immediately put into place, despite not knowing the full meaning behind the cryptic message.
An hour after the housekeeper reported the note, another call came into the police station– this time from Simmons who claimed he found the note on his way back to his apartment in the Village. Simmons had been studying with friends for a math test in Duckworth Library and was walking back to his room when he said he spotted the note attached to Maxwell’s door handle. Simmons said he read the note and was so upset he returned to his apartment to pray. An hour later he called the police. This raised the first red flag for the police. Simmons was a police cadet and was known for being eager to report any trace of suspicious activity on campus. The police felt it was out of character for Simmons to wait an hour to inform law enforcement about such a serious matter.
In addition, Simmons had made plans with his math study group to meet for breakfast before their test after getting a few hours of sleep, but never showed. When members from the group called him about his whereabouts, they said he acted ‘strange.’ Simmons told his friends that he found the note and saw a man place it on the door.
An emergency faculty meeting was held that morning to gain any leads from professors who might have noticed a distressed student in their classes.
Students received text messages and emails from the E2Campus, an emergency alert system for YHC students, canceling all classes before 10 a.m. until further notice.
Cox said it was debated whether it would be appropriate to instruct students to remain in their dorms. Because the letter was vague, Cox did not want to risk telling students to remain in their residence halls if they would not be truly safe there.
A bomb-detection canine unit was brought in from Rabun County to sweep the academic buildings. Finding nothing, and with the campus heavily monitored by law enforcement including the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, classes resumed at 10 a.m. All buildings remained on lockdown, however, with access only through the front doors. Residence Life staff continued to watch over the residence halls. Students were told that they may be searched by police if they were suspected of carrying a weapon or an explosive. Cox hoped that by allowing students to return to class, the campus could gain back some normalcy, as well give faculty and law enforcement the opportunity to observe student behavior.
While Simmons’s stories were changing, he was given the benefit of the doubt as he was upset. The GBI pursued him as a suspect but still followed any leads received through the YHC police and the Towns County Sheriff’s tip-line. Several students were questioned and administered a polygraph test. Simmons claimed he had nothing to do with the threat letter, citing his active involvement in religious life on campus. In an effort to clear his name, Simmons consented to the polygraph test, but did poorly. Polygraph tests can give reliable results, but cannot stand up in court as primary evidence because test subjects can manipulate body cues, leading to inaccuracies. The test results encouraged the GBI to continue to view Simmons as a suspect.
Simmons became nervous from all the attention he received from the police and began asking fellow students to send in character references to Cox and the police department.
“I don’t know why but Josh Simmons asked me to write this. He’s a really good guy. I’ve known him two weeks,” said Cox, mimicking the letters with a light-hearted laugh. Cox said in all seriousness she understood that students were trying to do the right thing and help a friend, and she did not hold anyone at fault.
Meanwhile phone calls continued to flow into the tip-line that a different student planned on killing students at YHC. When the police would follow up on these tips and track down the alleged suspect, the accused student was completely oblivious to the caller’s claims and GBI believed the other student posed no threat. This wrongly accused student had previously been questioned by the police, and Simmons was one of only a few people who knew his identity.
Police gathered more evidence implicating Simmons as a legitimate suspect by tracing text messages and emails sent from Simmons to YHC’s Information Technology department. Police found messages where Simmons inquired about where cameras and surveillance equipment were set up on campus. Simmons used a false name and created a separate email address as an alias. He even stopped by ITech personally, stating he was a friend of the fabricated student and also wanted to know about the cameras.
On the night of Oct. 19, Towns County dispatch received a 911 call from a student living in the Village that his roommate had attempted suicide. Police and EMTs responded to the call. The victim turned out to be Simmons, who said he had not tried to commit suicide but that he had been attacked by a masked man.
Simmons changed his story for a third time since the original discovery of the note, stating that the man who attacked him that night was the same masked man he saw placing the note on Maxwell. The masked man allegedly broke into the apartment, cut Simmons with a knife, wrote on him with marker and bound his hands and feet with zip-ties. The attacker waited to attack Simmons until his roommate was in the shower.
Simmons refused medical attention and would not go to the hospital. The GBI crime scene specialist concluded that no attack occurred as there was no evidence of a break-in or struggle, with Simmons lacking any defensive wounds. Simmons had also been spotted at Walmart buying markers, likely the same ones used in the alleged attack.
The College released a statement to YHC students the same night police responded to a 911 call. The statement indicated there was no credible assault and no one was believed to be in danger. Cox still kept a strong police presence to ease any concerns about campus safety.
Simmons’s father had been alerted about the attack and drove to campus out of fear for his son’s welfare. Cox said when Simmons’s father arrived they told him that the attack had been staged. Simmons was once again questioned by the police into the early hours of the morning and subsequently arrested and transported to Towns County Jail. The District Attorney was prepared to charge Simmons with several major felonies including making a terroristic threat. The DA offered Simmons a lighter sentence, with the possibility of benefitting from Georgia’s First Offender Act, if he pled guilty. This means if Simmons meets all terms of his sentence his criminal record will be expunged. Simmons must complete three years of probation after being released from prison, as well as pay fines and restitution to the College.
Simmons will also receive internal disciplinary action from YHC. The details of this action are confidential; however Cox did share that Simmons will either face suspension or expulsion in the coming days. Rogers clarified Simmons will be banned from the campus for a period of time. If he were to be suspended, he would not be allowed to re-enroll at YHC for at least a year after his release from prison. Rogers indicated it would be highly unlikely that Simmons would return after just a year’s suspension and stated he would be facing the most serious level of suspension or expulsion.
The lingering question is why? Why did Simmons plant the letter in the first place? That’s something for which Cox said she has no answer. Simmons never stated if he actually had intentions of harming students. Perhaps he tried to get out of the math test, and things got out of hand. It could have been a prank gone awry, or maybe he was hoping to find the letter and appear as a hero. Cox said she suspects Simmons is suffering from mental illness that neither his family nor friends previously noticed. His mother indicated to college officials that they are considering treatment options for him. Simmons’s mother has conveyed that he is incredibly sorry and remorseful. Cox concluded the summary of events by asking that the campus keep him in their thoughts and prayers.
By Annie Hunter, Campus Life Editor
The Rollins Planetarium is showing two shows that are, pardon my pun, a bit out of this world until April 15. “Laser Beatles” and “Laser Pop,” certainly know how to make an impression.
“Laser Beatles,” like the real Beatles, just got trippier as it progressed. There were dancing fish, spinning images of John, Paul, George and Ringo and characters from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band popping up over the screen. It didn’t help that all the images were either red or green, like some kind of raver’s Christmas.
When Beatles’ characters weren’t on the screen, there were these squiggly lines shimmying and shaking to the beat.
All of this, however, is very fitting of The Beatles. While the rest of the audience seemed to enjoy the show, the little boy in front of me was a pretty tough critic. He screamed and cried for a good portion of the program, but I guess if I was four years old and saw John Lennon’s giant head bobbing up and down on the ceiling, I would cry too.
“Laser Pop” opened with ‘N Sync’s “Pop” and followed it up with P!nk’s “Get the Party Started.”
Naturally, I assumed this evening would be a walk down memory lane to the soundtrack of the early 2000’s. That thought didn’t last long as the show launched into a medley of Beatles’ songs, the exact same ones I just heard an hour ago.
Most of the graphics were the same from “Laser Beatles” so it’s not like the creators didn’t know they were scaring small children with images of 60s superstars twice. Randomly tossed into the mix were Sting’s “Desert Rose” and “Cosmic Thing” by the B-52s. It all ended with “Kryptonite” by 3 Doors Down.
I’m still trying to figure out the logic behind the music. Maybe the creator just hit shuffle on his iTunes. Is it a Tony-award-winning show? Absolutely not, but for a planetarium program, it beats listening to a monotone voice explain the moon’s surface.
This post copyedited on April 18, 2011.
By Annie Hunter, Campus Life Editor
Last weekend, Young Harris College hosted a history conference featuring lectures from YHC professors, students and guest speakers from across the country and around the world. YHC faculty, students and community members attended the two-day conference entitled “Remembrances: Constructing Narratives of Wars of the 19th and 20th Centuries.”
The conference, was inspired by a class called “Remembrances of the Great War (WWI)” offered this semester by Natalia Starostina, assistant professor of history. The class offers a unique take on WWI by examining wartime narratives instead of the typical curriculum of dates and battles. Starostina, along with the rest of the history department, expanded on the idea with more YHC-grown ideas.
Starostina’s students from her “Remembrance” and “20th Century European History” courses even had their own session to discuss papers they had written.
“It’s wonderful. It’s very rewarding, and I’m so excited for them. They have been working very hard for this project,” Starostina said.
The art department chair Ted Whisenhunt also added an artistic touch to the conference by arranging a gallery of student artwork to be displayed in lobby of Goolsby Lecture Hall, with the art being war-inspired.
The speakers, who came from all over the globe, were attracted to the conference because the history department had thought outside the box, focusing on the cultural history of remembering war.
“It’s a much broader frame of reference than you usually find with anything involving war, and I think that’s why it kind of took off,” said Thomas Stearns, history department chair.
Among the countries represented at the conference were Russia, Israel, Iran and Turkey, each contributing different ideas and perspectives.
Olivier Courteaux from Ryerson University of Canada, for example, discussed France’s take on D-Day during his lecture on French General Charles de Gaulle, a perspective that would not have been visited in an American classroom.
Topics discussed varied as extensively as the wars which were highlighted, including lectures ranging from “Cold War Rhetoric and the Formation of the Presbyterian Church in America” to “Ottoman Prisoners of War in Kharkiv Region and the Valki Incident.”
The audience, which nearly filled the Wilson Lecture Hall, seemed to be impressed by what the history department had put together.
“The conference was very informative and touched on a wide variety of historical events. It was a great experience and I am glad I attended,” said Judith Hall, a freshman from Dawsonville and student of Starostina.
The success of the conference is a testament to the history department and the college as a whole.
In its first year after creating the history major, the department put together a large-scale conference that Stearns said the conference took on a life of its own and became larger than the department originally expected. Stearns also mentioned that in hindsight, the department should have only attempted the conference about 10 years down the road.
Starostina began looking into hosting a conference last fall and sent in a proposal for funding. By January, the department was fine tuning all the details. Starostina sent information about the conference out to the scholarly community, and the lecturers came to them.
Stearns gives credit to Starostina’s enthusiasm, while she says it was truly a product of the entire history department. It is evident to both, however, that this conference and the process of putting it on, speaks highly of the college and what can be expected from the history program.
“We have a particularly energetic and ambitious faculty. In our very small department, I would say the energy level is very high and the creative, looking down the road experience is very, very much with us,” Stearns said. “That’s a tremendous asset, not just with us but with the college. I think it says really good things about where we’re going in terms of scholarship and in terms of recognition by people elsewhere.” Starostina never had any doubt of the department and the college’s success in the planning of the conference, despite the brand new program.
The proof for her lies in the drive of the students, commitment of the faculty and the high standards of the institution.
“I do believe that Young Harris is a wonderful place and the faculty are very dedicated, sophisticated scholars,” said Starostina. “We are a fine institution, we have wonderful faculty, and talented students. For me, how else could it be?”
By Annie Hunter, Campus Life Editor
The Rho-Pi chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity was officially initiated by established chapters of Kappa Sigma on Feb. 19. Proceeding over the ceremony held at Towns County High School were representatives from Kappa Sigma headquarters in Charlottesville, Va. and members from chapters at Kennesaw State University, Middle Tennessee State University and North Georgia College & State University.
While the chapter is now officially a member of the national fraternity, neither the Office of Campus Activities nor the Inter-Greek Council recognizes Kappa Sigma as part of the Young Harris College Greek system at this time.
The chapter’s founding fathers began the process of securing a charter in December of 2009. Over a year later, the colony has finally become an official chapter in the eyes of Kappa Sigma headquarters.
“This past year I’ve probably been the most stressed person in the world trying to get all this stuff done,” said Bo Edgemon, chapter president from Americus.
Edgemon saw the opportunity to bring a national fraternity to campus when the college transitioned from a two-year school to a four-year institution. He feels a national fraternity offers more than a local fraternity because it goes beyond the college into an international network. Working with an area recruitment manager from Kappa Sigma, Edgemon found 25 students interested in bringing a chapter to campus.
In order to receive their charter, the colony had to complete an extensive checklist including raising $ 2,500, completing 2,500 hours of community service and create their own bylaws.
“I’m so relieved. I’m 100 percent happy,” Edgemon said of become an official chapter. “It can’t get any better than this.”
Until Kappa Sigma becomes affiliated with YHC, the chapter’s actions are limited by the college. Kappa Sigma may not advertise, raise funds or hold any events on campus. This includes partaking in Rush Week.
“It’s tough. You have to walk a straight line, but we’re dealing with it best we can,” said Chris Lyle, chapter vice president from Albany.
IGC has put together a committee of pro-nationals and pro-locals to gather information and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of recognizing a national fraternity of campus; however the fraternity has yet to hear any more on this matter.
“This committee was created and worked hard on making recommendations to the administration about the coexistence of local and national Greeks on campus. Although, a decision had not yet been made,” said IGC President Sharon Albertson of Carrollton.
“We’re not trying to ruin anything,” said Edgemon. “Just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s bad. I do support them. I hope they get everything they want.”
Lyle has felt the overall attitude towards Kappa Sigma improve over the past year and hopes that now that the chapter has been established, their relationship with the local Greeks will become more and more positive.
“We are trying to coexist. We’re here, and we’re not going away,” Lyle said.
Despite the limitations that arise with being unrecognized by the college, Edgemon and Lyle believe that the chapter will have no problem expanding by the end of the semester. They say the struggle has only made them stronger.
“There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing these guys succeed at what they’re doing,” Edgemon said. “That’s the reason why they’re in the Kappa Sigma Fraternity, because of the leadership they’ve shown and provided for this to happen.”
By Annie Hunter, Campus Life Editor
As Young Harris College’s first year as four-year school comes to end, three of its seniors have already been accepted into graduate schools programs. Kyle Hatley of Kennesaw will pursue Physical Therapy at North Georgia College & State University. Meg Ruth Patterson of Toccoa and Katie Dyer of Hiawassee will both go on to the Medical College of Georgia School of Dentistry. Their success is a testament to these students’ hard work and YHC’s ability to prepare its undergrads for a promising future.
Hatley, Patterson and Dyer each put in extensive hours interning with professionals in their given fields. In addition, they took a standardized test, similar to the SAT but geared toward their respective graduate programs. Also varying from undergraduate admissions, applicants had to be interviewed by their prospective schools. These graduate programs are highly selective with some only offering 18-24 spots for incoming cohorts. YHC professors assisted these students by connecting them with internship opportunities, writing letters of recommendation and being available to answer any questions.
Patterson feels as though YHC’s undergraduate science program has given her the tools necessary to succeed at the next level in her academic career.
Hatley agreed, “I definitely feel prepared to handle the course load in graduate school because the curriculum at Young Harris has been very challenging.”
Dyer attributes much of her success to YHC’s strong academic programs and the dedication of its faculty.
“Young Harris has been the best decision of my life,” said Dyer. “Young Harris has provided me with the foundation of not only studies but also confidence. I appreciate all the professors and faculty that have helped me and inspired me along the path to my career. I love that YHC challenges us and pushes us to be the best we can be.”
The Academic Advising Center mirrors the campus’ willingness to help and can aid students in every step of the graduate process, beginning with discussing various options with an advisor to preparing students for mock graduate program interviews.
“In one-on-one and group settings, the Academic Advising Center is actively working with students to explore graduate schools and programs, prepare applications and personal statements, locate internships and observation experiences, study for graduate school entrance exams and prepare for the graduate school interview,” said Debbie Roach, director of the Academic Advising Center. “The Center has a collection of resources to assist students in all of these areas.”
For students looking into certain professions, a master’s degree may be necessary or beneficial; a bachelor’s degree may suffice for others. Students contemplating grad school should speak with an advisor from the Center on the most appropriate path to take.
“Applying to graduate school is a personal decision, and the process is individualized,” said Roach. “Perhaps the most important advice for a student considering graduate school is for them to talk with their academic advisor as early as possible to begin exploring the process.”
Acceptance into a competitive graduate program is a major accomplishment, something that all three students and the college should be very proud of. As more seniors await their acceptance letters from their graduate schools, underclassmen can get a jump start on their own futures by doing their research and taking advantage of the college’s many resources.
Dyer puts it best, “YHC has given me opportunities that I would not have had anywhere else.”
By Annie Hunter, Campus Life Editor
Young Harris College is showing some love for Mother Earth by competing in Recyclemania, an eight-week recycling competition between 630 of the nation’s colleges. The pre-season trial which will not count towards final scores began two weeks before the formal competition’s official start on Feb. 6.
Recyclemania is a tournament that asks for little effort to receive a high reward. The winners of the competition’s various categories will receive trophies but most importantly the satisfaction of making global improvements.
“The main focus is to raise awareness, instead of throwing a coke can in the garbage, walk another step and put it in the recycling,” said Rob Campbell, academic service learning,Bonner coordinator and member of the sustainability committee.
The campus will collect the recycled goods properly disposed of into their corresponding containers and transport them to the recycling plant. At the plant, the recyclables will be weighed and the school will receive a receipt. These receipts are sent to Recyclemania, who will keep their website, which is http://www.recyclemaniacs.org, up to date on each of the competing school’s progress.
YHC students and faculty can do their part by taking advantage of the recycling bins already provided by the Student Government Association. SGA has been building up the campus’ recycling program all year and has teamed up with the Sustainability Committee to launch this year’s Recyclemania.
Campbell hopes that the small task of recycling will become habit, integrating recycling and sustainability into YHC’s everyday life.
It’s the small things, according to junior biology major and Blairsville resident Will Harris, which make all the difference. While Harris does not expect every student, staff and faculty member to share his same passion for the environment, he does hope that they will take the lesson encouraged by the Recyclemania program to heart.
“One person can’t change the world by themselves but if each single person does something then that’s enough to change it,” said Harris. “We have to get people over the fear of ‘I can’t do it.’”
Students looking to join their efforts can do so by simply putting their recyclables in the recycling bins outside of every residence hall. The planet will thank you.
By Annie Hunter, Campus Life Editor
Loving v. Virginia is not a Supreme Court case that many Americans would recognize. It doesn’t necessarily have the same nation-changing significance of Marbury v. Madison or the controversy of Roe v. Wade, but the 1967 ban of state laws restricting interracial marriage forever changed the way Americans pursued their own of happiness.
During the time of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists, interracial dating was taboo to say the least. Some Young Harris College students are included in the generational trend that, when it comes to matters of the heart, Dr. King’s words were not wasted.
Christelle Vereb, a sophomore from Hayesville, NC, is among the minority at YHC who are in an interracial relationship. While the couple sometimes attracts attention, she does not see it as negative or discouraging.
“[My boyfriend] is Cuban, yet he does not look Cuban. He looks Caucasian,” said Vereb. “And my goodness! My skin is as dark as night, so oh yes we do [stand out]! But really we just laugh it off and go on when people look at us.”
Most people, Vereb says, are indifferent to their relationship. Her parents, specifically, only want her to be happy and his feel the same way.
“At the end of the day, you’re with someone whom you care about, and they care about you in return. In the end you have each other, no matter the race or culture,” said Vereb.
With the ban on interracial marriages lifted, the United States began to see an increase in these types of relationships. Stanford University conducted a study in 1970 that showed only two percent of marriages could be classified as interracial. Thirty-five years later, seven percent of America’s 59 million marriages were interracial.
Amanda Massey, a freshman early childhood education major from Snellville, has been in three different interracial relationships. She said that for her it just makes more sense, and each of these relationships have been a better fit than when she has dated someone Caucasian.
“I think [interracially dating] is not necessarily better; but it’s better for me, because I went to a school of primarily black people so I just connect with them better,” said Massey.
Her parents, however, do not feel the same connection and would prefer for her to date within her own race.
“They don’t like it. I have to hide it from them because they don’t approve of it,” said Massey. “Interracial dating is more of a now thing, not really their thing.”
Massey attributes her parents’ disapproval to the generational views of her grandparents. She has noticed that when anyone gives her a ‘look’ while with her African American boyfriend they are usually 50 years or older. Massey predicts that as more diversity is added to the campus, interracial dating will be more prominent. Statistics tend to agree.
A Gallup Poll conducted in June of 2005 showed that 95% of 18-29 year olds approved of African Americans and Caucasians interracially dating. Sixty percent of that same age group stated that they had dated someone outside their race.
While resistance is impossible to eliminate, today’s generation has shown that it can and will love leaps and bounds further than its predecessors. It is a change that Dr. King would be proud of.