Posted October 5, 2012 by Cooper Point Journal in Features

Lions and Tigers and TESCcrier

A reported black bear sighting on Evergreen Parkway on Monday September 24, sparked a flurry of emails between faculty and staff. The emails covered a large range of topics including personal anecdotes, tips, links, and worries about safety on campus.

One email in particular brought up the issue of students picking berries in the forest and venturing down the trails to the beach. The middle of September to the beginning of October marks one of the main seasons for salmon in Washington waters, and the potential of bears fishing in the waters by campus increases.

This doesn’t seem to bother the Evergreen cross-country coaches.

Most of the team’s practices occur on the trails by the athletic fields or along the roads around campus, though some of the runners take to the beach trails for recovery runs. Head coach Malcom Dunn made sure his athletes were prepared if they came across a bear, but he wasn’t worried.

Dunn told his runners in jest, “just be faster than one of the people you’re running with.”

He’s not a stranger to coming across wildlife when exercising in the woods, having come across bears in the Blue Mountains while coaching for Whitman College, and nearly stepping on a rattlesnake in eastern Washington.

There haven’t been any exciting wildlife encounters at Evergreen though. “We see deer quite regularly,” Dunn said indifferently, before adding that he thought the bear sighting had never been actually confirmed. Campus police sergeant Tim Marron released a statement to faculty and staff via email about the sighting. Marron was unavailable to comment.

While the cross country team doesn’t plan on changing their running trails anytime soon, the danger of a bear on campus does bring up the question of student safety. The same email that discussed students hiking to the beach, posited the idea of posting signs along the forest trails.

Paul Smith, Facilities Services Director, confirmed that no one had approached Facilities about placing wildlife signs along the trails since most signs along the trails are taken down as soon as they are posted.

“This is the first time in the seven years that I have been here that a bear has been sighted anywhere close to the college,” said Smith.

A few staff mentioned previous sightings and encounters with bears during their time at Evergreen, but nothing as of yet has been verified. This lengthy discussion unfolded on the faculty and staff email distribution list, while only a brief forward of the reported sighting was sent out via TESCrier to students.

TESCcrier, an “opt-in” email subscription for Evergreen students, sends out announcements regarding campus community events. Within the profile of every student, there is the option to sign up for TESCcrier or TESCtalk, the campus-wide discussion forum. A major issue with these modes of communication for the Evergreen community is the difficulty distinguishing the purpose of each. TESCcrier is for announcing events, while TESCtalk is for discussing events, issues, and things of relevance to the community.

Many students get fed up with the constant barrage of emails and simply cancel the service. Only an approximate 20 percent of students subscribe to TESCcrier. This leaves 80 percent of students unaware of a potential bear in the woods, among other important announcements.

On the agenda of Student Affairs for the upcoming year is the examination of TESCcrier and exploring an alternative mode of communication with students. Currently, the Internal Communications committee, a continuation of the previous Student Technology Communications work group, has been discussing the idea of a different forum.

Student Activities Senior Advisor and Internal Communications committee member, Courtney Bailey, said the idea is not in “taking away the basic concepts of TESCcrier and TESCtalk, but looking for an alternative format that might be more effective and useful for the campus.”

The under utilization of announcement systems such as TESCcrier in the Evergreen community is also seen with the e2Campus notification system.

Another “opt-in” system for getting information to the community, e2Campus, sends out alerts via email or text when there are campus closures due to severe weather or similar emergencies. Theoretically, the e2Campus system could be considered a great communication system.

Jason Wettstein, Media and Community Relations Manager, feels e2Campus is “simply the most reliable way of getting information sent” because the system isn’t connected to the campus servers. This way, when the power goes out on campus, and students need to know about class being cancelled, the e2Campus system can still be up and sending out notifications.

However, only a little over half of students and staff are signed up for the alerts. This is one of the better statistics for e2Campus in comparison to other schools who use the system.

“The philosophy behind it is that if students sign up for (e2Campus), they’re likely to provide their best cell phone, best email, the way they’re going to be reached easiest,” said Wettstein. The problem is getting students to sign up for it in the first place.

A link to the e2Campus notification sign-up can be found on the homepage of The Evergreen State College website, but many overlook the link, or simply turn to other means of getting their information.

Wettstein agreed that “no communication system can be foolproof” but, “the idea is to try to layer different types of communication,” in order for all students to become informed.

Overall, Evergreen has been taking steps to improve student safety and they are continuing to improve upon the communication methods.

The lights in the parking lot have been upgraded and downsized. Instead of towering above the trees and the light getting obstructed by branches, the poles have been lowered below the tree level and are substantially brighter. Around campus, the blue emergency stations have undergone upgrades and are being retrofitted with equipment for the “big voice” system. Fire alarm systems throughout Evergreen are also being equipped to utilize the “big voice” system that was once only available in the student housing.

The communication systems on campus are respectable, but communication isn’t a one-way street.  In order for these notification systems to be helpful for students, they need student participation. There had been talk in the past of having notification systems in which students are signed up automatically, but they decided to have opt-in systems instead to give students the choice. Not to mention, the school isn’t the only source for information, especially for weather emergencies. Local news and radio stations are always a good place to find information about school closures.

By Kelli Tokos