Community and compromise: The woods policy debate continues as students and faculty meet to discuss options for next year

As students and administrators came together at a recent forum to discuss the high-tension issues that have surrounded the current woods policy, there was no promise of compromise. The discussion held on March 29, however, proved to be enlightening and civil, as students voiced their concern at losing “Guilford’s heaven,” a community many have not been able to find elsewhere on campus.

When questioned why the woods policy, which has existed since 2006, was suddenly being enforced this year, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Aaron Fetrow, Director of Student Judicial Affairs Sandy Bowles and Director of Public Safety Ron Stowe said that a rise in incidents these past two years has triggered the need for change.

“It doesn’t appear like a blip,” said Bowles. “It appears like an increase — and students at risk are something no administrator wants to see.”

Students present at the forum did not contest this point, but many sought a compromise.

“Give us a chance to let us prove ourselves,” said sophomore Samir Hazboun.

Once the chance was presented, students offered a multitude of alternatives and solutions to assuage administrators’ fear for student safety, such as bonfire RAs, emergency call boxes and permanent bonfire pits that would be up to code with city law.

The reputation that the bonfire pits have as a place for underage and unsupervised drinking may be true for some people. But as the discussion continued, it seemed that many students were willing to give up that privacy, so long as it meant preserving the community present at bonfires that they had come to love.

Senior George Pettis remembers feeling that sense of community, recalling that when he was a first-year “there was a really warm community. I was taken in by a group of seniors who felt affectionate to freshmen. … Those seniors took care of us.”

According to Pettis, the feeling of community between students, particularly those in different graduating classes, has begun to degrade since then, but the bonfires continued to be one place where students could gather regardless of age. But some students feel that the administration is not the one to blame.

“There are very few things at Guilford that are set in stone,” said Community Senate Clerk/President Yahya Alazrak, senior. “The administration may not have offered a replacement, but they didn’t put (the bonfire pits) there in the first place.”

While the administration may not have offered a replacement, they have tried to bring the community together in other ways.

“We provide five events … on the weekend, but people don’t come,” said Fetrow. “If we choose to, we can create community. We can offer so many things. But it’s up to you, as students, to tell us what you want to do as a community.”

For many — though not all — students, bonfires offered a sense of community that many haven’t been able to find anywhere else at Guilford. Whether or not students will have to find it in the woods or elsewhere on campus is still up for discussion.

“We can’t go back,” said senior Mikhail Khokhlov. “We have to go forward.”