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Kinesiology senior Nick Larson was having a routine Friday morning. It was getting close to 11 a.m. when the Mustang News beer columnist noticed someone was at his front door. He opened it and found two Cal Poly university police officers.
Before he assumed the worst, the officers assured him he was not in trouble.
They only asked for his phone number and said the Cal Poly dean of students would call him to set up an appointment concerning the “Whale Party” invitation he and his fellow Mustang News beer columnist, Jake Devincenzi, inserted at the end of their column the day before.
According to Dean of Students Jean DeCosta and University Police Department (UPD) Chief George Hughes, UPD and the Dean of Students Office work together to ensure the safety of students. UPD is one of the many departments on campus her office uses, DeCosta said.
The decision to counsel a student about their actions depends on the situation, according to Cal Poly spokesperson Matt Lazier.
“There are a variety of situations in which the Dean of Students Office would offer support to students, and many different reasons why we might feel the need to offer such support,” Lazier wrote in an email to Mustang News on behalf of DeCosta. “In all cases, we would make every effort to contact the students and offer our counsel on how they can maintain student safety and well-being.”
The decision to use UPD to obtain contact information was not just because DeCosta wanted to ensure the columnists’ safety — she was also in a pinch for time.
“When this situation occurred with the young men, I was at home dealing with a medical emergency that was fairly serious,” DeCosta said. “So, I’m bogged down in that and yet I have this information and it’s like, well, we need to meet these students. I’m over here dealing with my own medical emergency, so I employ other people to assist me.”
DeCosta said these types of actions — and her job description — may cause students to see her in a negative light.
“Students who come to Cal Poly usually see me as a high school disciplinarian,” she said. “I don’t discipline students. The discipline office is the Office of Students Rights and Responsibilities.”
In the beer column, Larson and Devincenzi explained what a “Whale Party” is — an event where a group of people of legal age come together and taste choice beers.
Four days after UPD visited Larson, the Dean of Students Office called to set up a meeting with Larson and Devincenzi.
At the meeting, Larson later said, DeCosta informed the columnists of the liability that comes with throwing and advertising a party. She was just advising them — they were not punished, nor were any students codes violated with the graphic.
“It’s her job to make sure we know what’s happening,” Larson said.
But Larson said he did not fully understand why UPD was used as a means to obtain his contact information.
“It was weird and unnecessary,” Larson said.
Larson also emphasized how the graphic was legal and cautious in nature. It explicitly said the guests had to be 21 or older and encouraged attendees to have designated drivers or an alternative form of transportation for the night.
But DeCosta said she still felt the need to inform the columnists of the possible consequences of their actions, especially the possibility of having more people than they invited.
“If you have an event, student A is going to text student B and invite them to the party. B is going to text C and D and invite them to the event,” DeCosta said.
The scope can escalate from there, Hughes said.
“That ad can go to thousands of people,” he said.
Even if UPD did not visit Larson about the matter, Hughes said, the San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) would have.
And they did.
SLOPD officers came to the columnists’ home four days after UPD did, Larson said, but he did not get to the door in time to open it. The officers did not return after that.
Despite these different mindsets, the meeting between the columnists and DeCosta ended on a good note, Larson said, and the “Whale Party” went on as planned. The pair invited DeCosta to the event, but she declined.