School officials grapple with creating a “safe for all” campus
By Charles Hallman
Everyone at the University of Minnesota — students, faculty, staff and administrators — are concerned about campus safety after a recent “crime wave” of robberies and assaults raised campus-wide alarm. However, many Black students and other students of color are now equally concerned about how they are being seen around campus.
After an attempted robbery at a campus dorm in November, campus police misidentified an innocent Black student as a suspect. A letter was sent in December to University President Eric Kaler and University Services Vice-President Pamela Wheelock, whose office supervises campus law enforcement, from several Black organizations including the Black Student Union, the Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA) and the Black Men’s Forum, expressing their concerns about the use of racial descriptions in crime alerts.
“We sent this letter,” explained Black Student Union President Amber Jones, “in response to the stories, the hurt and the pain our community was crying about. We cited the fact that this is going to have an effect on recruitment and retention of African American males and people of color in general.
“How is that going to affect recruitment when people of color feel like they are being targeted? They should be knowledgeable of the different hurt and pain that our community has endured as a whole.”
Wheelock, Vice President for Equity and Diversity Katrice Albert, and Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Danita Brown Young last week spoke to over 100 persons at a two-hour “crime and safety” forum at Cowles Auditorium to address concerns about campus safety. The three female administrators also met with reporters, including the MSR, prior to the January 29 meeting.
“The fact [is] that most crime alerts that we have had over the past few months include African American men as the identified suspect,” noted Albert. “People of color — students on campus [and] faculty on campus — are very concerned that they are being looked at [differently]. That’s stereotyping. Racial profiling is really police behavior, that they suspect multiple Black men in the community to be suspects. I don’t think that is occurring.”
Black students nonetheless, especially Black males, are concerned about being “hyper-surveilled” by both campus police and non-Black students because of the recent crime incidents on or near the university campus, concurred Albert. “It’s essential that we have a conversation around race.”
Brown Young added that her office has talked with law enforcement officials about being as specific as possible in releasing crime details. “We are trying to get the best information from that victim and being sensitive to the
ordeal they just went through while it is still fresh enough,” she said.
“Crime alerts are serious and indicate an ongoing threat,” explained Wheelock. “We want to have a well-informed community, so we have been actively pushing out more information on campus.” Wheelock later told the audience that her office has not received any racial profiling charges.
“This university and I do not tolerate racial profiling,” reiterated Kaler in a brief appearance. He admitted, however, that sometimes police, in trying to stop the crimes, “can raise concerns about racial profiling. But I am confident that the law enforcement strategy…is the right one to curb crime.
“Our community must be safe for all of our students, all of our staff, all of our faculty, and we must find new ways to ensure that indeed our campus is safe for everyone to study and work. Campus crime affects us all. We do need to improve the campus climate, and I am committed to doing that.”
“Too many Black men on this campus…are feeling the discomfort” of being looked at differently, said College of Education and Human Development Associate Dean Na’im Madyun.
Black male students are not feeling safer with an increased police presence on campus, said U of M junior Ian Taylor, Jr., who is president of the Black Men’s Forum. Many Black males on campus also “sense that people are looking at [them] funny,” he said.
Campus police instead are doing “behavioral tracking” in their attempts to stop crime, added Wheelock. “Is there something out of place? These are the signs they look for,” she stated.
Senior K.C. Johnson later told the MSR that he disagreed with Wheelock’s assertions about racial profiling. “Just because nothing is being reported doesn’t mean it isn’t happening,” he pointed out.
There is a lack of trust among Black students with school officials in dealing with the issue, Jones later told the MSR. “…I was trying to have [Wheelock] come from the perspective, what are you doing to step outside of your framework to understand where we are coming from as a community,” said the Black Student Union president.
Jones said that both Albert and Brown Young “have very close relationships with students of color. Brown Young has come to our meetings as well as events we have put on. She has shown her face and made herself available. That is something we are looking to see from all of our higher administrators.”
“I wish we had gotten more detailed information as to what specific actions have been taken” to address the Black students’ and staffs’ concerns, said BFSA President Alysia Lajune in an email response to the MSR.
“I feel like a lot of times the University of Minnesota creates excuses, and they [U of M officials] very rarely work to create solutions,” said Johnson. “We have been given the opportunity to be heard, but we will know if they respect what they’re hearing if they do something about it and actually take our suggestions and put them forth immediately [and] not a month down the line.
“Personally I never have been attacked by the police. Do I feel safe? No. Do I feel fearful? Yes.”
Police officers too often “over-patrol” when it comes to Black men, Johnson said. Asked to evaluate the current climate of tension on campus among Black students and other students of color on a 1-to-10 scale, he replied, “I would put it at a hundred.”
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