Tyler Molander debates withdrawal

By Alyssa Creamer

Also see: Campus Perspective: From Sylvan to Southwest, students discuss Molander
|Podcast: Molander speaks out about his intentions |Molander’s original ‘Friends Club’ letter |Letter causes stir on campus | Tyler Molander in process of withdrawing | Campus Perspectives: Students respond to letter and reaction | Editorial: Molander misinterpreted by University

To listen to the audio recording of the Collegian interview with Molander, visit DailyCollegian.com later today.

Alyssa Creamer/Daily Collegian

MARION — Tyler Molander, the University of Massachusetts junior who distributed a typed letter to hundreds of students vying for members to join a “friend club” on Jan. 29, is currently in the process of withdrawing from the University, citing “pressure” to do so from UMass administrators.

Calls and visits to the Dean of Students’ Office did not yield comment. University spokesman Ed Blaguszewski stated that he could not comment beyond confirming Molander’s enrollment status, citing privacy laws.

In an in–person interview on Sunday with the Massachusetts Daily Collegian at his Marion residence – where he is currently living as he reviews his decision to withdraw from the University with his parents – Molander recounted the details of his decision to distribute the letter and its aftermath.

Student Reaction to Letter

Molander – a tall young man of average build – sat on his mother’s floral couch, keeping a calm demeanor and an even and polite tone throughout the duration of the interview. He began the interview saying, “I’m Tyler Molander, and I put those controversial letters under the door.”

The “controversial letters” he references, were the hundreds of letters he slid under the doors of dormitories in Southwest and Sylvan Residential Areas on Sunday, Jan. 29. Since the night of their distribution, the letters’ content and tone have been debated among members of the campus community and on several Internet outlets with some students saying it held an “uneasy,” “creepy” or “threatening” tone and others saying they believed Molander was just “trying to make new friends.”

The letter, a reflection of how Molander views both UMass and friendship, received a mixed-reaction from the students whom it was delivered to. Many found the writing unsettling, particularly the post-script which read “Please don’t come if you are acquainted with me, I apologize, but just trust me.”
“When I actually started to read it, it kind of scared me,” said UMass student Jon Floyd. “Mostly the part where he was like ‘Please no friends.’”

Floyd was not alone in his fears as the letter prompted conversations throughout campus in the days following its distribution and caused numerous people to call the police. As Molander had signed his name, people googled him and found his blog and Facebook, which had a video, that Molander described as ‘art’ in the Collegian’s interview with him, of Molander with a paper bag over his face that said ‘sociopath.’

“The letter I got was kind of weird, but it wasn’t that bad,” said UMass student Natasha Kapadia. “The letter just brought attention to his blog and Facebook and I think those things were kind of bad.”

Many students, including Floyd, began to feel sympathy for Molander and realize that the true intent of his letter was to make friends.

“At the same time, I understand he was just trying to make friends in the end,” said Floyd. “I think the school asking him to withdraw is just kind of sad.”

Others believe that the campus overreacted to a letter that one student described as “innocent,” and believed that calling the police was an unnecessary measure.

“I thought it was his own personal decision. He wanted to go out and make friends,” said UMass student Haylee Isaacs. “It wasn’t anything, they shouldn’t have called the police about it. He wasn’t single-ing people out.”

His letter had asked students to meet him at the Blue Wall at 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 30. But, Molander would never show up to his own meeting that day.

Response from Administration

Earlier on Monday, he participated in a meeting with Dean of Students Enku Gelaye that culminated with him being “banned,” said Molander, “from the Blue Wall” and placed in the University’s safe housing facility in the Lincoln Apartments, which are located on the fringes of the University’s campus.

“They said I caused ‘mass hysteria,’” said Molander, allegedly quoting Gelaye.

Molander said he requested that he be given the opportunity, with Gelaye’s help, to “call all these people back” who had “felt threatened.” According to Molander, Gelaye denied his request.

“I feel that if I do call these people back, I may be doing more harm than good,” said Molander in the interview.

“They said ‘we feel it’s best that you do not remain on campus tonight,’” said Molander on his discussion in the Dean of Students’ Office. “It was implied that someone had threatened me, but I have no evidence of that.” Molander said the Dean of Students’ Office did not provide him with specific information on alleged threats made towards him.

Although Molander agreed to comply with Gelaye’s recommendation, he said in the interview, “I wanted to go back to Southwest and go to bed in my own room. I did not feel unsafe; I still do not feel unsafe.”

Earlier in the week, Molander updated a Facebook status to say that he underwent a five-hour psychological examination conducted by University officials. During the interview, he initially maintained this time frame in his description of the psychological evaluation that he says he had with Director of Training Linda Scott and according to Molander, a psychiatrist from the University’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Health. However, moments later in the interview, he said that he was not certain how long he had been in the Hills offices being evaluated.

“It was deemed that he was not going to harm himself or anything else,” said Carol Molander, Molander’s mother, during the Collegian’s interview with her son.

According to Molander, Gelaye originally wanted to place him in Cashin dormitory on Monday night.

“I expressed that I did not like Sylvan [residential area], and they allowed me to stay in the Lincoln Apartments,” he said. “I was escorted by the police from the dean’s office to Hills, and I walked from Hills to Whitmore [administrative building] without police and I was escorted from Whitmore to Lincoln Apartments. I was allowed to go to Washington to get some personal effects.”

During Molander’s initial meeting with Gelaye, it was determined that his parents would also participate in a second meeting on Tuesday with Gelaye and Scott. Molander said, “at that point they had not implied that they were like, ‘Alright, get out of here.’ They just felt for my safety that I should stay off campus.”

Both Molander and his parents, John and Carol Molander, met with officials from the Dean of Students’ Office, including Gelaye, on Tuesday.

“They’re not like ‘Get the hell out of here, you’re worthless, at all,’” he said. “They’re just saying that ‘this is unorthodox and this is an unfortunate set of circumstances, and we think it’s best that you consider [withdrawal], and if you don’t we might have to forcibly remove you.’”

“I do feel I was pressured into withdrawing,” he continued. “[Gelaye] said these thing which worked up in my mind – I don’t know, I could be misperceiving them – but she said ‘We will try to have you forcibly removed and I don’t want you to go down that road.’”

Should he choose to refrain from withdrawing from the semester, he said, it is likely that the Dean of Students’ Office will formally charge him with violating the University’s policy against any and all unauthorized solicitation as listed in the Code of Student Conduct.

“They don’t have [the solicitation policy] because they’re afraid of people putting ‘Have a nice day!’ under doors,” said Molander. “They have the policy because they’re afraid things like this will happen and cause mass hysteria.”

If Molander withdraws at this point in the semester, the formal documents explaining the withdrawal process – which he showed Collegian reporters on Sunday morning – state that he would only receive back 60 percent of his tuition and fee monies for this semester.

Carol Molander said that during her conversation with Gelaye, the dean told her that “she could not guarantee [Molander’s] safety.” Carol Molander repeatedly said during the interview that her main concern was her son’s well-being and that her son “was not kicked out” of the University.

Molander also said that per his mother’s request, he has made an appointment with his pediatrician to access whether Lyme disease – which he suffered from this past summer – may still be affecting him physiologically. According to Molander, Scott said that she had a friend who had some mental health issues directly linked to Lyme disease.

Molander said that if he was “medically cleared” by his pediatrician, he would like to return to the University.

“The only reason why I should withdraw is because right now I’m behind on my schoolwork,” he said. “But I’m in all these sociology classes, and I’m sure they can give me time to make it up if I’m doing this changing society bull[expletive deleted].”

Encounters with Res Life and UMPD

According to Molander, Gelaye said that the night he distributed letters to students’ dormitories, both the University and the UMass Police Department received concerned phone calls from rattled students and parents.

While Molander said during the interview that officials from the Dean of Student’s office said over 100 of these phone calls were made, UMPD Deputy Chief Officer Patrick Archbald said in an interview with the Collegian that “there were more than 10 calls, but less than 100 made to the UMPD.” Archbald refused to quantify the number of calls specifically. Calls to the Dean of Students Office on this matter were not returned by publication, and as of Friday, Blaguszewski declined to comment on any details regarding Molander’s withdrawal other than his enrollment status, citing privacy laws.

“There were students who were calling us, concerned about the letter, and the students who told their parents and their parents called us and asked what we were doing about it,” said Archbald. “There were enough calls to UMass Police that warranted follow up by us working with the Dean’s Office and Res Life to determine what the intended message was and why people were feeling the way they were about the letter …”

Prior to meeting with the Dean of Students, Molander said that he was concerned over the campus’ reaction after a discussion with Resident Director Thondup Tsering.

According to Molander, Tsering spoke with Molander about distributing the letters.

“People apparently were freaking out, so they called the RD [Tsering],” he said. “The RD [Tsering] told me people were feeling uncomfortable.”

Molander said that Tsering allowed him to continue handing out the fliers under the condition that he could collect Molander’s contact information while he attempted to discover if Molander’s actions were in violation of University policy.

“[Tsering] understood what I was doing, and at the time, he did not find anything wrong with it,” he said. “He got my information, and we both agreed that he would contact me if he felt that I should stop.”

Molander said his encounter with a Washington Tower resident assistant was his first experience with an individual who had a negative reaction to his letter distribution.

“An RA came down and he was extremely distraught, and he told me that … his residents were extremely uncomfortable with what I had done,” he said. “I didn’t understand why … he didn’t really understand what I was doing. … It was just very distressing.”

“I was empathizing with the guy,” he continued. “He said ‘You’re making people feel uncomfortable,’ and I told him ‘well, sometimes the right thing to do is uncomfortable.’”

Molander said the RA asked him to leave the residence and he complied.

“At this point, I was personally upset because I didn’t know it was having that much impact, so I stopped,” he said.

Molander said that he contacted the police after his encounter with the RA. He said that the police told him “there was nothing criminally wrong with this, it was something I was doing wrong in the context of the University.”

“There were no laws broken,” said Archbald. “Even having read that letter from the get go and what I knew from Facebook and from others it was never a police matter.”

According to Molander, he spoke with a police officer on Tuesday afternoon and was told that police officers were at the Blue Wall Monday evening “incognito,” he said.

“If you have people who are interpreting this as a threat, even if it doesn’t meet Mass. General Laws for a threat, that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to investigate,” said Archbald. “If we have 10, 15, or just a few, 30, 40, 50, 100 people calling us up saying they are concerned about something, whatever it might be … we’re going to look into it.”

“The stance on this is that it is not a threat and was not a threat,” Archbald continued.

Letters to Friends

Molander has a history of attempting to motivate others to form community groups on campus. He said he decided to attend the University because he felt it “had a lot of potential” because “[it] was advertised that it was big.”

During the interview, Molander recalled meeting Chancellor Robert Holub at a dinner event at Worcester Dining Commons upon entering his freshman year. According to Molander, Holub said “it’s the best college town.” He said these factors attracted him to UMass, and once on campus, Molander said “the first thing I tried to do was I tried to look for a philosophy club. I was interested in meeting people. I could not find that.”

“Later, I found out that they had a philosophy society which had been deactivated because no one liked it,” he continued. “So I took it upon myself to attempt to create a new one. And I put a bunch of fliers up in the stairwells in Webster and Dickinson.”

During Molander’s freshman year, when he advertised for a philosophy club, he lived in Webster Hall in the Orchard Hill Residential Area. The fliers, he said, stated: “Come to the Blue Wall at [4 p.m.] or [4:30 p.m.] if you’re interested in making a philosophy club.”

Molander’s group, which he called the “Philosophy and Open Thought Club,” gained enough members to garner Registered Student Organization (RSO) status; he was president for two years and became secretary of the RSO for last fall semester.

He said that at that point in time, he “didn’t know it was against the policy that you couldn’t flier in dorms.”

In the interview, Molander said that at the time he wrote the letter, his main friend group rested solely within the social group of his philosophy club.

“At the time I did this, I was in the philosophy club,” he said. “All of my friends were based on philosophy friends; they were all like philosophers who were just talking their heads off. I was frustrated with that.”

“I tried a bunch of stuff … I tried to reach out, and because of that reason, because the school was very big, and I felt that I wasn’t going to be able to reach everyone, and I didn’t know how to do that,” he said. Molander told the Collegian that he has an “overwhelming idea in [his] mind” of a student in his room, drinking alone because they “just don’t know what to do.”

“Alright, I’m just going to write a letter, take a snapshot of my emotional state, take a snapshot of who I am, try to be as honest as I can, say ‘I’m willing to be your friend if you’re lonely, if you want to do all this stuff,’” he said.

Molander said he spent $250 printing his letters at Collective Copies located on Amherst’s downtown strip. He estimated that he made 8000 letters, and said that there were thousands unsent letters in his parents’ basement.

Alyssa Creamer can be reached at [email protected]