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Amid excitement of move-in day, Vanderbilt parents consider recent arrests

4:09 PM, Aug 17, 2013   |    comments
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(THE TENNESSEEAN - NASHVILLE) Parents of Vanderbilt University freshmen students had it easy Saturday.

More than a thousand volunteers cheered their arrivals and handled the heavy lifting during the college's bustling move-in day - a reassuring and refreshing welcome that stood in sharp contrast to what parents have otherwise been hearing about the university recently in the news and in emails from university leaders.

The event came after the latest criminal indictments Friday in the rape of an unconscious 21-year-old female student at a campus dorm this summer.

Five athletes face charges, including four kicked off the football team and one who has been suspended. Four face multiple counts of rape, and one has been charged in an attempted cover-up. Two California men unaffiliated with Vanderbilt also face charges.

"It kind of hit close to home - I heard it was that dorm yesterday," said Greg Hatfield, of Dallas, who moved his teen daughter into Gillette Hall, where police said the incident took place June 23.

Police said rape went unreported until someone reviewed security camera footage, triggering the investigation that led to indictments this month.

Hatfield said he showed his daughter a recent university email about the incident.

"We talked about getting her some pepper spray," he said, "but I haven't ordered it yet."

Yet Hatfield and a half-dozen other parents said Saturday that an upbeat, let's-put-it-all-behind-us attitude prevailed on move-in day.

And the football team had a noticeable presence among volunteers, with freshmen players in their jersey tops helping alongside Coach James Franklin. Scheduling prevented the team from helping the past two years, but Franklin said that he made sure they could be there this year. He declined to discuss the case.

"They've got their jerseys on, helping people move in. Shaking hands. (Getting) a chance to meet a lot of the freshmen and welcome them to campus," he said. "They have been here all summer. So they have already started acclimating to the community, so it's important for them, being able to be out here, and work, and show everybody how much it means to us to be a part of this community."

Parents sure of choice

Other parents said they've had to field questions from friends about sending children to Vanderbilt.

But they said the high-profile case hasn't given them second thoughts about the high-achieving university.

"It's unfortunate timing for them," said Sara Russell, of Chevy Chase, Md. "I know the school is doing the best they can."

Parents of young men and women spoke of filling their cross-country road trips to campus with discussions about good behavior.

"You have to say: 'Son, you have to make good decisions.' I have complete faith in him," said Kathryn Wood, of Oklahoma.

"If you're raised right, it doesn't matter where they go," husband Mike Wood added.

Many families found themselves with time to roam campus because of the efficiency of the move-in.

Short caravans of cars periodically pulled up in front of dorms on The Commons, which include Gillette Hall, where first-year students live in dorms that also house faculty advisers. It's an arrangement geared specifically toward making their transitions into college life smooth and safe, Associate Provost and Dean of Students Mark Bandas said in a recent interview.

New students also meet regularly in small groups led by faculty and older student mentors, during which the college delivers sexual assault prevention lessons. And they must watch a 30-minute video before arriving on campus. The university checks whether they did so through an online registration and quiz.

Students said they watched those videos and know they'd be quizzed again on their understanding in the fall.

Theodora Tsarouhtsis, a freshman from near Chicago, called the educational videos "comprehensive" and said she felt safe. A little nervous about getting started with college, she said, "but mostly excited."

Her father, Dimitrios, noted the police presence on campus and praised the university's communications about the arrests.

"I think they have handled it quite well," he said. "I'm not nervous at all."

He was at ease as volunteers cleared out his dark blue minivan in about two minutes while he shook hands with the faculty adviser who will help watch out for his daughter's well-being.

And then it was time for her to go into the dorm.

"Hey, you've got one more bag," dad called to daughter. "More shoes!"

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