Community discusses campus safety in forum
After the November 2017 armed robbery incident on campus, attendees at the Dec. 7, 2017 student safety forum discussed how to maintain campus safety and improve relations between students and University Police.
Featuring a panel of administrators and Student Union President Jacob Edelman ’18, the forum gave students the opportunity to ask questions and discuss concerns about campus safety.
The University’s leadership is “spending a great deal of time thinking about safety and security on campus these days,” Vice President for Campus Operations Jim Gray told attendees. “We are reviewing all of our policies and procedures, we’re trying to improve our ability to respond and respond properly.” In that effort, he said, the University is considering engaging a college campus security expert to consult at Brandeis.
Statistically, Gray added, “ours is really a very safe campus,” when compared with similarly sized campuses in major metropolitan areas. However, “any breach of that that makes people uncomfortable is unacceptable to us,” he said.
The University also tries to maintain student safety while keeping its campus open, Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan said, adding that he is often asked why there are no cameras in residence halls or armed guards at the University’s main gate.
While Public Safety is looking into ways to improve campus security, “we don’t like to implement any changes that impact you as community members,” without first gauging student interest, he said.
In regards to the armed robbery in particular, several students described what they perceived to be a breakdown in communication between the University and East Quad residents.
Office of Student Rights and Advocacy Director Zosia Busé ’20 explained that the incident was stressful for East residents, a situation that could have been mitigated with more communication — namely consolation and reassurance — from the Department of Community Living.
“It’s been radio silence, which has been concerning to a lot of students,” she said.
Director of Community Living Tim Touchette replied that “there was a lot of intentionality about not sending out another message,” and there was no new information to add to Callahan’s and University President Ron Liebowitz’s emails on the incident. Additionally, Touchette said, DCL was concerned that another email could be retriggering for students still working through the trauma.
While Busé noted that the informational emails sent to the community were helpful, she asserted that it would have been beneficial to have received an email from someone more directly linked to the East Quad community than Liebowitz. “When was the last time he’s been in East Quad, you know?” she joked.
From there, the conversation shifted away from the specific incident to the general state of student-University Police relations. Specifically, some students described tensions between University Police and students of color.
Senior Representative to the Board of Trustees Wil Jones ’18 cited an unofficial poll conducted by a faculty member and presented at a Trustees meeting which showed that students of color, especially Black women, felt unsafe and overly surveilled in their interactions with University Police officers.
To address these concerns, Jones called for a conversation between students and the police officers they interact with.
Callahan explained that students who have had substandard interactions with University Police officers are encouraged to reach out to the Department, adding that the number of complaints filed against officers has been low. Jones countered that students of color may not feel comfortable going through formal channels, adding, “you can’t dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools.”
Gray emphasized the importance of improving relations between students and University Police, adding that the University’s police force is “a hardworking, well-trained, caring police force dedicated to the safety of all students on this campus, without regard to their color or without regard to anything else.”
“If we have inadequately … intercepted the students of color with our police force, then that’s something we need to work on, and I’ll talk to Ed [Callahan] about working on that,” Gray said. “But we have a great force here. They care about our students. It’s a tough time to be a cop. … It’s a tough time to be a person of color interacting with a cop.”
Asserting that more conversations are needed on the subject, Dean of Students Jamele Adams added that there used to be diversity training for University Police officers, and it may be beneficial to reintroduce it — “it’s not foreign to have it happen,” he said.