Stonehill Campus Copes After Negative Publicity
March 27, 2011
By Maribeth Conway
The normally tranquil campus at Stonehill College, a Catholic school where crime is rarely reported and backpack-lugging students shuffle to and from classes, was disrupted last week and thrust into the spotlight with the news of two disturbing student-related crimes.
On Monday, Stonehill College junior Kevin Treseler was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting an 8-year-old girl while working as a tutor in a Brockton classroom.
Then on Thursday, former Stonehill student Sterlynn Robbins, 23, was charged in federal court after police said he threatened to kill two Stonehill employees and blow up the college.
Television camera crews and newspaper reporters descended on the campus, leaving students frustrated with the negative attention and school officials rattled during what is normally the biggest recruitment season for colleges.
"We got hit on both ends in one week," student Sean Racine said. "These kinds of things happen at a lot of other colleges on a (weekly) basis. It's just shocking to have it happen here."
In recent years, Stonehill has sought an increased national and international presence. The college has amped up marketing outside New England, now sends about 40 percent of students abroad, receives an increasing number of national annual accolades for academic achievement, and as a result of these efforts, experiences a consistent influx in enrollment annually.
Last week's incidents came smack in the middle of the school's most crucial point in annual college recruitment.
Crimes reported during recruitment peak
Acceptance letters were mailed to prospective students in March and the college, like most schools, is in full marketing mode in hopes students will select their school by the May 1 deadline. Right now is also the time of year the school begins the drive to recruit high school juniors.
"We've been doing a tremendous amount of marketing," Stonehill President Rev. Mark T. Cregan said.
On Saturday, Stonehill hosted about 1,200 prospective students for tours on campus and Cregan was reassured by hearing very few prospective students asked about the student crimes.
"These incidents; it's not characteristic of Stonehill," said current student Jessica Kilpatrick. "But I could see them affecting the image of the school."
Cregan hopes the school's transparency will reign supreme.
"We're trying to be transparent. We're speaking to the press. We recognize there are allegations and now we're letting the judicial process play out," he said.
College spokesman Martin McGovern said the public is far more understanding in recent years about threats of violence at schools.
"With people in this day and age, they understand we live in a very dangerous world, a post-Virginia Tech world, a post-Columbine world, so any examples of that kind of violence, people know that you have to be proactive," said McGovern, adding the school handled the Robbins situation aggressively.
"Our friends, alumni, neighbors will see that we responded very professionally. We sought assistance of appropriate agencies. We took it to the highest level - the FBI - in the shortest amount of time," said McGovern.
The college is confident alumni will stand in support of the school. McGovern pointed to the success of the college's recent six-year fundraising campaign where the school collected $60 million in support, surpassing the goal of $55 million.
"In this recession, it's a tribute to the loyalty of alumni, 41 percent contributed to that campaign," McGovern said. "That's evidence of a good deal of loyalty. We think that will become one of our great strengths."
Alumnus Daniel Coughlin is also a trustee of the school and said he is confident other alumni will see these events as isolated and school support won't waver.
"When you have large numbers of people together, unfortunate things can happen," Coughlin said. "But it's very atypical and out of the ordinary."
Current students angered
Staff of the school's student-run newspaper were hit with an onslaught of comments from angry student readers, upset with the school newspaper's coverage of the tutor's arrest. The newspaper contained three articles detailing the charges and comments from students and school officials along with photos of Treseler.
"He's one of our own," said student Sean Racine. "We're judging him and what if he's found not guilty and is back in the classroom? Then everyone is going to recognize him. It's a little harsh," Racine said.
He felt the school newspaper that day was too reminiscent of a professional newspaper and said student reporters should have refrained from publishing Treseler's name and photos.
In comments to school reporters, many other students shared similar sentiments, saying the school is a community and should stand by one another.
"Their everyday lives have been disrupted," said Cregan. "They're great kids. They care about students being arraigned, even a former student being arraigned. They care about the fact that an 8-year-old girl is a victim of abuse. And there's also concern of how they're going to be received."
Relationship with Brockton
Although students and school officials are confident the school's image is not permanently tarnished, the college is mostly focused on nourishing the relationship between the college and the Brockton schools, said Cregan.
About 150 Stonehill students regularly provide tutoring services in the Brockton schools.
"Even if the allegations are proven true and (Treseler) is convicted of the alleged crimes, that's one of 1,300 to 1,500 who have gone through the program in the last decade. We have to put it in perspective," said Cregan.
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