A Letter in Exile
Introduction: This “Letter in Exile” penned by Khang Truong is about his dismissal from W&L. The Spectator’s publishing of this article is meant to spark campus discussion, not represent any of our views on the subject. To represent that neutrality, the letter is in its original form and has not been edited by any Spectator staff member. Additionally, Dennis Hull reached out to both Dean Sydney Evans and Rallie Snowden so that we could show their side of the story. Dean Evans responded, but Rallie Snowden declined in order to protect student-counselor confidentiality. Dean Evans did respond and her comments on the situation are included at the bottom of the article. We hope that inclusion helps show both sides of the issue and leads to an informed discussion. -Will Tanner
The past several days have been turbulent, to say in the least. Many individuals will have preconceived notions of the events of September 18th; this letter is written to clarify what exactly happened that night, and the compounding events that followed. It is my hope that this piece will illustrate the potential dangers of what can be called a “red flag mentality,” and more specifically, to effect some change in our University’s policies, so that what happened to me may never happen to anyone else.
On the evening of September 18th, I was walking home when I decided to stop into The Palms for a late night snack. Having just returned from campus, I was unarmed, and so I felt free to order a single drink along with my burger. Later in my dinner, I remembered that I had a few documents in my apartment next door that required my attention before the night ended. Leaving my phone and wallet on the table so indicate I was not absconding, I left The Palms and stopped at my apartment to pick up the documents. The folder in question related to a business I had recently founded dedicated to promoting firearm safety. Not immediately able to find the folder, I holstered my sidearm and returned to The Palms.
(My decision to holster my sidearm after having a single drink is admittedly a questionable one. If there was one aspect of this story I would have done differently, it’s precisely that singular drink. Regardless, I am confident that I was not intoxicated, nor was my judgment in any way compromised after one drink. For context, the state of Texas acknowledges this by allowing for controlled drinking for concealed carriers, provided they do not over-consume and become intoxicated. This is not to say that I would argue that what I did was the best course of action, because it certainly wasn’t.)
What I don’t regret is my decision to exercise my right to carry a sidearm on the evening of the 18th. Later that night, I began to become concerned about another patron several seats away from me. He was clearly highly intoxicated. He was slurring his words, making inappropriate comments at the bartender, and occasionally reaching across the bar to touch her inappropriately. While I would never condone such action, there was, at this point, nothing that could be done. Eventually, the bartender seemed to grow tired of the comments and went out the back door of the restaurant. He followed her. They exchanged words. He put his hands on her. She tried to shove him off, but he was much larger. Concerned for the safety of another I sought to deescalate the situation by poking my head in and asking if everything was alright. The man became aggressive towards me and made a movement as if he were about to attack. Fearing for my own safety in the presence of a larger, drunk man, I placed my hand on my hip to indicate that I had a sidearm. To dispel any rumors circulating, I want to make it abundantly clear that at no point did I unholster my sidearm, nor did I point a gun at any other human being. I merely used the minimum action required to deter my aggressor and prevent bodily harm to myself or the bartender. I was successful, as all three of us were able to return to our seats in the restaurant. Feeling uncomfortable with the idea of the drunk man alone with the bartender, I finished my water and immediately walked to the police station. Although the station was closed, a wall phone allowed me to reach a dispatcher, who instructed my to return to The Palms.
I returned to The Palms expecting to give a statement. Instead, I was immediately detained and taken to jail, where I was charged with brandishing a firearm and carrying while intoxicated. I never received a blood test. I was never read my rights. Upon my release the next morning on an unsecured bond, I was quite shaken up, but comforted by the fact that I had concealed carry insurance for precisely this reason: sometimes, acts of self-defense aren’t immediately apparent to responding officers. What self defense insurance could not prepare me for was the battle I would have with the one community I valued most: Washington and Lee University. Shortly after I returned home, I told my counselor about my night in jail and the circumstances surrounding my arrest. The counseling center offered sympathy and sent me on my way. Soon later, I was met by two police officers informing me that the counseling center had initiated the process for an Emergency Custody Order against me. As a result of this ECO, I was referred to Carillion hospital for nearly a week. Several days into my stay at the hospital, I was visited by Dean Evans and my counselor, Rallie Snowden. I learned that shortly after the ECO was issued, the counseling center had initiated dismissal procedures against me. I was told something I never thought I would ever hear: that I was a threat to the University community and could therefore withdraw or be dismissed.
I stared at the latter in disbelief. The University had given me all that I had; it was my dream school, the community I always felt a part of. I love the University. Yet here I was, being accused of plotting to harm that same community. The thought brought tears to my eyes. I inquired as to what exactly led them to believe I was a threat. I was told that there was a series of “concerning actions” across the past two years. I was told that the University was concerned that I owned firearms. I was told that the University was concerned that I owned a business related to firearms. I was told that the University was concerned that I had recently quit the mock trial team, that I had a Kevlar vest, that I encrypted my laptop. I wanted to address each of the points in detail, to dispel any rumors, but I also want to attack this broader mentality that one can “connect the dots” between unrelated events and make a determination of whether an individual is dangerous or not. In reality, humans are multifacted creatures that resist stereotypical profiling.
On the charge that I own firearms, yes, I admit I own firearms. Two, in fact. I just happens that one of those firearms is a Ruger AR-556, a large, black, scary looking firearm that some would call an “assault rifle,” despite its semi-automatic fire. Not wanting to add to any concerns, I had reached an agreement with Rallie prior to the withdrawal proceedings wherein I would voluntarily surrender the firing pin to my rifle to the University and retrieve it when I intended to visit the shooting range.
I also own a business related to firearms, which was meant to be the original topic of this article. The Fluffy Biscuit Company was meant to create productive discourse on campus and in the local community regarding the safe and responsible usage of firearms. I sought to bring together people of diverse political beliefs to see commonality in one another.
I also own a Kevlar vest. These are a part of my interests. I also happen to own lock picks. I’ve picked locks for over six years. It doesn’t mean I burgle places in the night. It means I have unorthodox interests. The University certainly knows of my interest in security. They funded a trip for me to come to DEFCON 26, a premier security and penetration testing conference. Rather than ask for clarification on any of these things, they connected the dots in a most insidious way. In other words, they analyzed the information in a biased way and produced a faulty intelligence product. More robust analysis would have revealed that I had quit the mock trial team because I had decided to become an intelligence analyst rather than a JAG lawyer, not that I was slowly descending into madness.
What I find most concerning about the entire ordeal is the extent to which the process our University procedures are guided by the red flag mentality. Rather than have rigorous investigation, rooted in due process and fair representation, we’ve allowed fear to consume us. As a result, our core values have become degraded. I write this letter in exile. Pursuant to the terms of my withdrawal, I may never enter Rockbridge County or Lexington City again in my lifetime. Lexington was a place I called home. It has been the site of intense hope, of love, of bitter disappointment, of hard lessons learned, one of friendship, and mentorship. It was truly a place to love, but I will never see it again, not because I have violated any rules or laws, but rather because I exercised my rights in a time of political debate.
My die is cast, but I should hope that this not have to happen to anyone else. I urge the reader of this document to reconsider whether the current policies that allow an individual’s dismissal letter to be issued before they can provide any input is one that is fitting for such a fine institution. Does this reflect our values and aspirations, and can we truly consider ourselves an institution of tolerance if unorthodox habits are punished in the most severe form? What message does it send to those seeking mental health help if the counseling center is willing to initiate dismissal proceedings without ever, in nearly two years of therapy, indicating concern to the patient himself?
I harbor no anger or animosity towards the University. How could I, after all it has done for me? Nonetheless, I am troubled by the pervasiveness of the red flag mentality and hope that this letter serves as the impetus for a discussion on where the community sees its balance between security and liberty.
I can be reached for further comments or clarification at email@example.com.
Dean Evan’s Response:
“While I cannot discuss the specifics of any student conduct matter, I can tell you that much of the information circulating about this issue is incomplete and inaccurate.
First and foremost, the safety and well-being of all of our students is our utmost priority. It is important for students to know that the university’s Counseling Center does not have unilateral authority to initiate a detention order or a dismissal. The counseling center provides confidential counseling services, and by both law and protocol, counselors may only share confidential information without consent in very limited circumstances, including when a student may present a threat to the campus community.
Per university protocols, authority for threat assessment lies with the Student Threat Assessment and Response Team, which includes representatives from student affairs, public safety and student health and counseling. The president has the authority and responsibility to remove a student deemed a threat to campus safety. This is a serious responsibility that is exercised rarely, and only after substantial investigation.”