In an all campus email President Roth notified the community that Public Safety will no longer include racial identifications in its safety alerts, an issue that has become increasingly contentious since Homecoming Weekend, when a sudden rash of safety incidents all described assailants as “African-American males” with little other information. For many, including race without useful other descriptors narrowing who the assailant might be created racially motivated hysteria while not meaningfully helping our community stay safe. In response to vocal outrage by a significant number of students of color, and in light of the Diversity University Forum last fall, in which the topic of alleged racial profiling took center stage, alongside claims of Public Safety misconduct, the Public Safety Review Committee, which consists of students, faculty, and staff members, recommended that Public Safety modify campus safety alerts, standardizing a set of descriptors to be used in Public Safety alerts. Race was not included as a descriptor to be used in Public Safety alerts, and Publicly safety has now adopted the practice of including the set of descriptors the committee agreed upon.
Since President Roth’s email there has been an explosion of controversy. Some are happy with the change. Others view the decision as a textbook example of political correctness run amok. As a member of the Public Safety Review Committee (PSRC), and as Co-Chair of the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), I’d like shed some light on what the Public Safety Review Committee is and why we recommended Public Safety modify campus safety alerts to provide descriptions of suspects without using race as a descriptor.
The newly created PSRC was convened to explore the role of the Public Safety Office, review the issues that were raised in the November 2012 Diversity forum, and make recommendations towards the improvement of departmental practices and protocols and serving the varied needs of safety and security for the Wesleyan Community. Additionally, the committee will provide guidance to Margolis Healy and Associates, a leading campus law enforcement consulting firm that is being hired to review the Office of Public Safety and will meet with faculty, students, and staff on April 30 and May 1st
In order to understand the change in policy it is first important to understand when and why safety alerts go out. It is also important to bear in mind what is included, rather than simply focusing on what will now be excluded: race. In an effort to provide timely notice, and in the event of an incident that poses a potential threat to members of the Wesleyan community, all campus e-mails are coordinated by the Director of Public Safety to alert the campus community. All campus e-mails are also disseminated for certain incidents that occur including: arson, aggravated assault, criminal homicide, and robbery. The current Alert policy, incorporating our recommendations, means that Public Safety will include a brief description of the incident by the reporting party and/or any witnesses which may include the following: the number of individuals, gender, approximate age, mode of transportation and direction of travel as well as any other uniquely identifying information (clothing, scars, etc.) If there is a very good description of suspect(s) and it would stand out from the student population that will be shared; however, race or ethnicity will not typically be included in the email unless its inclusion makes identifying the suspect reasonably certain.
The decision to typically remove race, as a descriptor, is part of a broader initiative to respond to last semester’s Diversity University: In Theory and Practice forum. The descriptors that are identified above were decided upon because the committee felt that they provided the community with the most useful information possible. Public Safety will still use race as a descriptor internally, but race will not typically be included in the email as including race without useful other descriptors creates unproductive racially motivated hysteria, unnecessarily marginalizes members of our community, and does not meaningfully help our community stay safe. The aforementioned descriptors that will be included in the email reflect the committee’s view that they are useful and critical and thereby worth disseminating to the community. This recommendation is not about political correctness, nor is this recommendation exclusively about race. It is about the PSRC identifying ways to improve departmental practices and protocols by serving the varied needs of safety and security for the Wesleyan Community. Because of the announcement some have focused onwhat will not be used as a descriptor as opposed to why. Unfortunately, this has the subsequent effect of concealing the true purpose of our recommendation: establishing departmental practices and protocols regarding descriptors to include in Safety alerts that are disseminated to the entire community.
When evaluating the proposed modifications to the Alert policy, it is important to understand what the policy actually entails and why we recommended what we did. We are only in the beginning stage of making recommendations towards the improvement of departmental practices and protocols and serving the varied needs of safety and security for the Wesleyan Community. We are also mounting pressure for Public Safety to publish their policies and procedures, specifically regarding use of force and restraint. And in the interim, Public Safety is working on publishing frequently asked questions regarding critical policies relevant to student life such as room entry, asking for ID’s, loud noise complaints, use of restraint/force, Public Safety’s camera/video policy, and where the Middletown Police Department has authority on Campus.
I hope that I have clarified that the recommendation that Public Safety modify campus safety alerts to provide descriptions of suspects without using race as a descriptor should be understood within the larger context of a recommendation regarding standardizing what descriptors to include in Public Safety alerts. As Co-Chair of the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), and as a WSArepresentative to the Public Safety Review Committee, I encourage members of the community to contact me or any other member of PSAC or the PSRC with any suggestions and concerns they may have in order to improve the Office of Public Safety and Student-Public Safety relations.