The Co-Editors in Chief would like to acknowledge that the other students in the 2013 fall China Cross-Cultural group were no contacted for their perspective on the issue. Their input on the matter is pertinent to the situation, and we are currently engaged in finding a manner best suited to communicate that perspective.
Senior Michael DeTellis was sent home from his cross-cultural in China on Wednesday, Oct. 2 with $65.43 in Chinese RMB, a hotel voucher, and a written itinerary of directions and flight numbers.
Prior to leaving for China in Sept., DeTellis signed a behavioral contract which explicitly stated that under no circumstance was he to drink alcohol while abroad, a contract found to have been broken after it was reported to his leaders that he had alcohol at a celebration for a fellow student turning 21.
The contract also specified that if DeTellis was found to have breached the contract, he would be responsible for the expenses of returning home.
DeTellis was initially prohibited from the cross-cultural as an outcome for a student conduct violation. He then took it upon himself to informally appeal, after which a unique behavioral contract specific to his situation was written, a measure often taken by Resident Life as a precursor to suspension. DeTellis maintains that prior to the signed agreement with student life, he underwent a substance use evaluation that determined no sign of an “alcohol problem.”
The signed contract began by stating that any verified misuse of alcohol would result in the student’s withdrawal from the university. By signing, DeTellis recognized his responsibility to comply with the following: “I agree to completely refrain from alcohol use while on the China cross-cultural in the fall of 2013, including all times of travel associated with the trip. To the extent possible, I will also avoid situations where my use of alcohol might seriously be in question. If I violate this agreement… I understand that I will be withdrawn from participation and will need to return home at my own expense… This wellness contract is in place for my safety, personal growth, and wholeness.”
The group of 15 was made aware of the situation in order to create accountability and, according to the contract, “so that all members of the group can be supportive of [the student’s] success.”
DeTellis feels this measure failed after being invited out. “I figured everyone would be okay with me having a drink, otherwise, why on earth would I be invited out to a bar to celebrate a 21st birthday? Nobody tried to pressure me into drinking, but at the same time I felt like ratting me out wasn’t keeping me accountable as much as it was getting rid of me.”
Once leaders Myrrl Byler and Deirdre Smeltzer, who are unable to comment at the time, were made aware of DeTellis’ actions, they chose to uphold the contract and its stipulations. DeTellis said that once confronted by the trip leaders about the information they had been collecting, he “respectfully complied with their decision.”
Once Byler and Smeltzer purchased the tickets, to be later charged to the DeTellis family, the trip leaders accompanied DeTellis to the Nanchong airport in Sichuan, after which he was required to travel alone. From Nanchong, DeTellis flew to the Shenzhen airport in Guangdong, and then took a bus to the Hong Kong International Airport. The following morning he flew into Chicago, and then took a connecting flight to Dulles Airport in D.C. DeTellis said the two days he spent traveling were spent in anxiety over language barriers, attempts to contact family through unreliable Internet connections, and stress that he would take the wrong transportation and be trapped at an airport with no credit card or way to communicate with his family.
“The fundamental problem I have with this whole arrangement was that there was no backup plan if something went wrong. I had one shot at getting back home,” DeTellis said. “That’s what scared me and my family so much.”
Eric Codding, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Housing and Residence Life, said “the point of a contract is to help students succeed, not to set up a situation in which they are likely to fail. Contracts can be a great alternative to a suspension because when they work as hoped, they allow students to continue their educational aspirations without interruption.” DeTellis, however, viewed the contract as a way to “ensure group safety and stability. . . and this was not a fantastic example of ensuring safety.”
DeTellis said that he feels extremely guilty for the implications of his decision towards himself, his friends, his family and the financial loss he has caused them. He also feels guilt about those who spoke on his behalf in order to allow him on the trip, as well as the position he put his leaders in upon his contract breach.
“Whether more could have been done is highly open to discussion,” said DeTellis, who questioned whether the leaders involved could have “stepped in and carried out some common sense. I was not intoxicated; I did nothing illegal or immoral. I don’t want to pick a fight with student life because at the end of the day I signed the damn thing and I chose to break it.” DeTellis maintains a hope that he will be allowed to resume his education at EMU within the next year and make up the credits lost to obtain his Bachelor’s degree. “I love EMU to death. I was stupid in breaking the rules, but I’m confident that God will transform these circumstances.”
-Lani Prunés, Managing Editor; photo provided by Michael DeTellis