Roth: Public Safety Will No Longer Include Race in Safety Alerts

“Diversity and Inclusion” will be theme for next fall’s Orientation, fall Board of Tustees retreat

In an all-campus email update yesterday, President Roth sent word 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.” The move has been recommended by a Public Safety Review  Committee, which consists of students, faculty, and staff members. From Roth’s note:

The committee has recommended that Public Safety modify campus safety alerts to provide descriptions of suspects without using race as a descriptor, and Public Safety has adopted this practice. The committee continues to review the department’s policies and protocols, web presence, and schedule of trainings. Ensuring that there is a clear path for reporting concerns to the department is important.

Roth’s attention to issues of diversity and racial profiling follows closely on November’s “Diversity University” forum, where the topic of alleged racial profiling took center stage, alongside claims of Public Safety misconduct (most notably, an incident involving Paulie Lowther ’13), hateful ACB remarks, and diversity sensitivity in general. A number of students of color took the microphone at that event, describing being singled out for suspicion and unwarranted hostility. “It’s your responsibility not only to protect us, but to get to know us,” a student demanded to Director of Public Safety Dave Meyer. A heated exchange followed between Meyer, who insisted that Public Safety is required by Connecticut law to include racial identifications in email alerts, and Visiting Professor of English and African-American Studies Sarah Mahurin, who claimed that Yale—where she completed her graduate work—does not include race in its reports. (Meyer disputed this claim; a current Yale law student later verified it in an email to Wesleying.)

That week, Roth described the forum as “an intense, disturbing and enlightening experience for me” and vowed to “work together to make Wesleyan an institution that values diversity in theory and in practice.” Since then, his committee has identified three areas of needed improvement:

1) improving interactions between Public Safety and students, (2) increasing the scope and intensity of the Making Excellence Inclusive program on campus, and (3) enhancing town-gown connections to increase opportunities for positive interactions between the campus and the city.

In his current update, Roth notes that the committee will review Public Safety’s “policies and protocols, web presence, and schedule of trainings.” Additionally, next fall’s new student orientation will be devoted to “Diversity and Inclusion,” which will also serve as the theme of the Board of Trustee’s retreat.

“Recognizing that building an inclusive campus culture is a work-in-process,” the president concludes, “Wesleyan remains committed to creating, as our mission statement puts it, a ‘diverse, energetic community of students, faculty, and staff who think critically and creatively and who value independence of mind and generosity of spirit.'”

These subjects are not new. Racial profiling has been a topic of discussion and contention at Wesleyan for decades, and these moves won’t change that in a single sweep. I remember talking to alum Bobby Donaldson ’93 at an event shortly after November’s forum when the 1990 firebombing of President Chace’s office came up in conversation. Donaldson, now a Wesleyan trustee, revealed that he had been questioned as a suspect in the firebombing that spring. “They said it was a six-foot black male, and that described me,” Donaldson told me. “I hear racial profiling is still an issue on campus today!” Some weeks after the firebombing, racial epithets were found scrawled on the walls of Malcolm X House. President Chace held a campus-wide forum that sounds remarkably similar to the one that took place last semester. Over 500 students, faculty, and administrators were in attendance.

Front cover of the Argus, May 9, 1990.

Front cover of the Argus, May 9, 1990.

Has it gotten better since 1990? It’s hard to say. I wasn’t around then. You can find a detailed account of the events of that spring on a blog titled Racial Tension @ Wesleyan ’89-’90.

Nothing goes away overnight. But these current moves are a push in the right direction, I think, and ought to be commended.

Read President Roth’s full update here, via Roth on Wesleyan.

Homecoming Weekend: A Time for Violence?
Allegation of Public Safety Misconduct Emerge After Incident at Freeman
Beckham Hall Ruptures and Collapses From Weight of Released Emotion
Roth on Last Night’s Forum
“Diversity University” Forum: Complete Video is Online, Worth Watching
Activism or Terrorism?: The Chace Firebombing, Twenty Years On

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40 thoughts on “Roth: Public Safety Will No Longer Include Race in Safety Alerts

  1. Pingback: Wesleyan’s Public Safety Nightmare | In The 'Cac

  2. Anon

    Makes me feel really SAFE. PSafe can no longer use descriptors to alert us of rapists and other criminals. So, like (for example) I get raped, how should I report it? I am thinking it would go something like this:

    where: a place on campus, but like I can’t say where because…

    who: it was like someone, who was there, but then wasn’t there…

    descriptors: skin tone? Yes, human? can’t say, clothing? possibily

    So to recap we have:

    what happened: a person of gender, who was or was not wearing a type of clothing, who is or is not part of the Wesleyan community, who has a skin tone, but it can not be disclosed, and it happened at some point in time.

    The percentage of catching the criminals will be raised greatly using this new method. I can see how this will help the rapists, oh I mean our campus now!

  3. Pingback: “Words Versus Actions”: Billinkoff ’14 Films Documentary about Public Safety Controversies | Wesleying

  4. aj

    This is absurd. If the man who committed the assault is African American then he is African American. Its not racist to give an accurate description of the perpetrator. If the assailant is white then he is white. This is not about race this is about giving an accurate description to protect the students. If the perpetrator is African American its not racist to report that he is African American because he is. There is no lie.

  5. Pingback: Wes Reacts To Recent Policy Concerning Race | In The 'Cac

  6. Whoa

    Now reports would read, A human raped a human. Or a person stole xyz. Great, you can a lot from this who to look for. A person, A human.

    1. Batte_A

      To restate a point I made earlier, I think it’s *really* telling that commenters like yourself are reacting to the removal of one factor – race – as if it’s the removal of nearly all identifying characteristics. It makes it obvious how central race is to our mental conceptions of “dangerous” people.

  7. action bronson

    It’s interesting how the incredible xenophobia of the wesleying readership comes out in these comments. Like once withholding race from the description allows the non-student Perpetrator to conceal himself (for the Perpetrator is always male) in plain sight, the Unsafe Student can no longer visualize the non-student threat and, say, cross to the other side of the street to avoid the encounter. Now, the Perp can be anywhere! The Wes student can never be safe from the hordes of dangerous resident of middletown that descend upon bright young wesleyan students when they least expect it. Put up the iron gates around the campus! We can be like Trinity, a city upon a hill.

  8. Student '13

    Some of the comments on this post are disgusting. Honestly, you should be ashamed. If an email contains nothing but the fact that the perpetrator was a [race] and [height], how does that in any way increase safety? Serious question. If you are going avoid people of such a general description, then you are just bending down to racism and racial profiling. The problem was never that the Public Safety reports are racist. The problem is that Wesleyan student are racist, because let’s be frank: all people are racist. The reactions to this piece of news only reinforce the point.

    1. OpenYourEyes

      If you want to institute a policy that only allows Campus Security to include race in the description of a perp if it contributes to identifying them when paired with other descriptors (I don’t see how it wouldn’t), then that’s fine. But to FORBID the use of race in the set of identifying characteristics to help apprehend or avoid a dangerous individual…well that’s just plain stupid. It’s putting political correctness above safety. So it’s more than stupid. It’s downright dangerous.

  9. pyrotechnics

    I take a position in between:

    Much of the problem, in my mind, was the inclusion of race as the *sole* descriptor (or one of very few) in a campus alert. Informing me of a crime committed by a white man around 5’8” does not really tell me much and I am certainly not about to report every person I see that fits that description. Nor am I about to report every black person I see after I get an alert mentioning that the ‘perpetrator was an African-American individual.’

    Unless there are sufficient descriptors to be legitimately helpful, I believe that including them contributes (or at least threatens to contribute) to a culture of bias on our campus; I therefore believe that they should be left out. An alert is still useful, though, as it brings the community’s attention to the issue of safety.

    In the event, however, that there are a fair number of descriptors (for example, their clothing, sex, race, approximate age, build, the location of the crime, and the rough direction they left in), enough to actually be helpful to the community in locating or identifying the perpetrator, then I believe that it makes sense to include all of the descriptors, race included.

    This is a fairly high bar for me. A rather detailed description is necessary for me (or anyone) to have any real possibility of distinguishing a potential threat from the many, many people that walk our campus each day (students and non-students). I understand that it may be difficult to decide whether these requirements have been met, but I believe that this should be at the discretion of Public Safety — and Public Safety will be held accountable to the community standards by the community, here on Wesleying and elsewhere.

    Anyway, that is what I think we should do. Thoughts?

  10. CMB '13

    I am surprised and appalled at the number of negative comments on this post, and most of the previous comments are characterizing the reasoning for this decision completely incorrectly. This is not about an effort to be PC, or because we don’t want to describe people according to race or take racial identifiers out of our vocabulary. The problem is twofold:
    1) Emails were being sent out about incidents in which the non-student was always identified by race but the student never was. In some of these incidents, the student was clearly a victim and therefore we can imagine that they were not identified because there is no need to know who they are. Yet in other incidences there was not such a clear victim/perpetrator divide (i.e. a fight between Wesleyan students and non-Wesleyan students), but the non-students are still the only ones racialized and portrayed as the perpetrators to look out for.
    2) Using race as a main descriptor and characterizing trait when dealing with crime is what leads to racial profiling, and was in fact leading to such practices on our campus. Multiple black male students spoke out about experiences of being stopped and questioned by p-safe following these events last fall (and at many many other times as well as Zach points out in his post – this is not a new phenomenon). Neither Wesleyan students nor middle town residents should be subject to that type of criminalization and harassment.

    1. alum

      To #1) You’re kidding, right? How many incidents between Wesleyan students and non-students involved a “fight” where a Wes student was a perpetrator? Give me even one example. The crime on campus involving non-students is non-students against students, plain and simple.

      To #2) As others have mentioned, why even send out an email at all, then, using your logic? If the perp is wearing a grey hoodie and so am I, then aren’t I going to be singled out for my clothing? What about being a tall male? This is political correctness being carried way too far. Is racial profiling an issue? Yes. Is the alternative (not even knowing the full description of the suspect) worse? Probably.
      Tall male wearing ____ leaves a lot more people as possible suspects if you take out race.

      Also: PSafe still knows the race of the suspect (presumably), so if the goal is to eliminate racial profiling by PSafe, not only does this fail to accomplish that, but it gives the Wes community less information with no benefit (as its PSafe who is accused of profiling in the first place).

  11. What?!

    I just really don’t understand how someone can label a public safety report as “racist” for including the physical description of the assailant; this is a vital component of identification. These reports don’t include race to make a personal statement or comment about race, or crime and race–they are just trying to provide the community with as many details about the assailant to try and keep its student alert and safe.

  12. alum '10

    Wait, but everyone knows that all crimes at Wesleyan are perpetrated by two young black men, between 5′ 3″ and 6′ 5″, possibly wearing hoodies. It’s been that way since time immemorial!

  13. AL

    I don’t understand how someone can label a public safety alert “racist” because the assailant is physically described. It’s simply a component of physical identification, and has absolutely nothing to do with discrimination; they are not including race in the description as a personal statement or comment about race — it’s just fact.

    1. Zach

      No one, including myself, has labeled public safety alerts as “racist.” It’s the institutionalized attitudes, behaviors, and — in the case of Paulie Lowther ’13 — violence that is related to these alerts and were laid bare at the forum in November. I’m curious if you (or similarly minded commenters) were at that forum.

      1. ugh

        One thing I doubt Roth and PSafe considered was that the views expressed in that forum don’t represent the views of the majority of people on campus. Our campus has a silent majority that isn’t willing to speak up at events like this because they don’t want to deal with being accused of being racist. Some very good points were made at the forum, but for much of its duration it was a PC witchhunt with students literally yelling at Roth and PSafe for things that they didn’t necessarily have any control over. One could bring up the validity of not including a description at all of perpetrators or not sending out PSafe reports, but if PSafe needs to physically describe a suspect it seems ludicrous to not mention their race as part of that description.

  14. So foolish

    This is idiotic. The fact is, most public safety incidents on this campus involve African-American males. Now, if someone is assaulted by a white man, and the public safety alert doesn’t include race, my suspicion is that most people will assume the man was African-American, which IS MORE DANGEROUS FOR THEM. What’s more dangerous? Being wary of the black man walking down the street toward you, because you read about a black man in a PSafe report, or being wary of him anyway (and falsely!) while the true perpetrator likely wouldn’t inspire a shred of fear?

  15. Mister Pragmatic

    This is absolutely ridiculous. This is not about racism, it’s about student safety. The descriptions are meant to help identify those responsible. I realize this is a liberal school, but political correctness should not take precedence over safety. If the perp happens to be African American, so be it. The term is a physical descriptor, not a racist remark. But of course, we wouldn’t want to hurt any feelings now would we?

  16. Sarcasm

    Securing Students’ Safety w/ Race Included in Description: +2


    Securing Students’ Safety w/o Race in Description: +1
    Catering to Students’ (Misguided) Pleas: +1

    We are fine, guys. We’re fine.

  17. Anon '13

    I also don’t think we should be allowed to include sex a a descriptor in case the alleged assailant does not identify with the gender binary. And we really shouldn’t describe what the person is wearing either, as that could indicate socioeconomic status.

    I’m glad everything is now better on campus and we won’t have any more issues regarding discrimination.

    1. anon

      Yes. It’s really offensive of the administration that they haven’t made these changes already.

    2. Ri

      I think they SHOULD describe what the person is wearing, if it’s something distinctive. -__-

  18. Let's be rational here

    Honestly, this is stupid. What’s the point of even releasing a safety alert if we have no description? This argument should transcend race and be more about students’ SAFETY. I guarantee that if every student at the school could vote on this issue, the inclusion of race in these alerts would win by a landslide. Obviously this was bound to happen; anyone who argued to continue to include race would be labeled a “bigot.”

    1. taco

      Yeah, also let’s just have stop and frisk at Wesleyan. It would prevent all these problems in the first place.

      1. W.W.

        The fundamental difference between the notorious “stop and frisk” and putting detailed descriptions — which includes all that could allow INDIVIDUAL STUDENT to try to identify and avoid danger — is that the former involves active institutional acquiesce that leads to racially biased execution, while the latter is only an open information for students who NEED and ARE SUPPOSED TO HAVE safety. Failing to understand such difference is how one could relate these two, with such PC mindset.

    2. Batte_A

      What’s “rational” about concluding from this piece that alerts will now have “no description”?

  19. Captain Obvious

    So let’s say a student is raped and she reports it the moment the perp leaves her dorm room. Campus Security can no longer issue a safety alert that the accused is wearing a white t-shirt, jeans, and is (for example) Asian?
    This policy is asinine. It’s a textbook example of political correctness run amok.

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