Harford Community College students looking for a place to relax on campus during exams last week were left out in the cold.
The student lounge, the Owl's Nest, was shut down after charges of racial slurs and sexual harassment by students led college officials to temporarily lock the doors.
"The situation has been burning for a couple of months," said Scott Calkins, president of the student association. He recommended that the administration close the facility, which is in the college's Learning Resources Center, to let tensions "cool down."
Richard J. Pappas, president of the college, said he agreed to close the Owl's Nest, although he didn't think the situation was out of control.
"It happens on every college campus where there are a lot of different cultures," he said.
Kim McEndree, a commercial art student, attributed the race-based comments made toward her and her husband at the Owl's Nest to ignorance. "The students [involved] need to mature," she said. "It's their problem, not mine."
Seated on a wooden bench outside the resources center, the 21-year-old black student said she and her husband, Matthew, who is white, were in the lounge in November when black students taunted them. "They were loud about it," she said with a shrug.
Mr. McEndree said he ignored the comments but that his friends were upset. He reported the incident to college officials.
Mr. Calkins said he also knew of several women students who wouldn't ven go into the Owl's Nest. "When girls in skirts would go there, guys would call out comments to them." He said a chair was thrown at one female student.
Students agree that these incidents are not typical of the campus.
"It was a one-time deal," Mr. McEndree said of the comments made to him and his wife.
Student Rommel Sagandoy said he hadn't heard of any such incidents outside the Owl's Nest.
"It's pretty much safe" on campus, he said.
When there is a problem, college security officers are called and, if necessary, they call the sheriff's office, Mr. Sagandoy said.
Several students talked about an incident involving a black student with a Walkman in which the sheriff's office was called. One student who witnessed the incident, who asked not to be named, said campus security officers were called to the Owl's Nest when students complained about the loudness of the Walkman.
An argument followed after the student refused to show them his student identification card.
The security officers then called sheriff's deputies.
Mr. Calkins said that news of the incident "spread like wildfire around campus. It appeared to be a white administration dragging away a black."
A spokesman for the sheriff said deputies responded to a call at the college. When they showed up, the man said he was leaving and did leave, the spokesman said. There was no arrest.
"This was the final straw," Mr. Calkins said, leading to the Dec. 13 closing of the lounge, which can accommodate up to 100 people.
L "It's a space issue," Mr. Calkins said. "It's really small."
There was often controversy about use of the room, which has chairs and tables, a few booths, vending machines and large-screen television, he said.
Events would be going on in the room that other students wouldn't be interested in. Students would also clash over what type of music to listen to -- rap vs. hard rock -- Mr. Calkins said.
"This was the only place to hang out," he said. "There was no place else to go" on campus.
Overall, Mr. Calkins said, the incidents at the Owl's Nest show "a lack of respect for other people."
Kim McEndree thinks so, too. "That's not what college is about. ** College students are supposed to set an example," she said.
Dr. Pappas said he had met with students about the Owl's Nest and that the main topic was how people should be treated.
"We need to relook at the policy of respect," he said.
Dr. Pappas said the student association would make recommendations on how to avoid problems at the Owl's Nest.
"The students are pretty responsible," he said.
Mr. Calkins, a 25-year-old general studies student, said the association would be setting up a task force after the holidays to look at the issues. He said he hoped the Owl's Nest would be open in time for the spring semester, which starts Jan. 19.
Harford County Community College has grown from 119 students when the school opened in 1957 to 5,520 students last semester.