The Minority Students’ Association Board (MSAB) is pushing back against Public Safety’s proposal to arm two supervising officers on the River Campus.
In a broadcast email to its members this past Wednesday, MSAB asserted that the proposal “does not reflect the direct needs of this campus and surrounding community and in fact, endangers many.”
MSAB then called for DPS to attend a public forum with the student body. DPS had declined MSAB’s initial request for one.
The board rejected Public Safety’s proposal after holding an open forum on Oct. 28, which was attended by over 100 students and faculty.
“There was an overwhelming concern in that room,” MSAB President and junior Tara Eagan said.
At the forum, several students and faculty said they were not willing to consider arming DPS officers on campus.
“The 2013 move to a sworn, armed force was presented as a compromise,” an attending faculty member said. “The 2016 decision to move to arming the Medical Center was presented as a compromise. This is going to be presented as a compromise, but the trajectory is very clear.”
Several students also wondered aloud when evolutions of the University’s policy on arms would end.
One major source of information for forum attendees was sophomore Ivana Baldie. She attended both the Senate meeting on Oct. 22 and a Student Government luncheon held the following Friday with Director of Public Safety Mark Fischer.
In her meeting with Fischer, Baldie asked him how the department would work to prevent bias-related incidents. Fischer informed her of a database called CultureVision. With this database, officers can type in a culture — Fischer gave the specific example of the Amish — and characteristics of the culture come up, allowing officers to familiarize themselves with it.
“CultureVision is very problematic,” Baldie said. “You’re telling me that I fit into this box, this stereotype. Just because I am a certain color does not mean I will act in a certain way.”
Baldie also recalled being shown pictures of people exchanging guns on the pedestrian bridge connecting the University to South Plymouth Avenue. To her, this seemed like an attempt to portray the surrounding UR community as a threat. Much of the sentiments of the Sunday forum also voiced unhappiness at DPS’ perceived fear-mongering.
The proposal as it stands explains that the University needs armed officers to mitigate the threat of an active shooter and to reduce response time in these circumstances.
Eagan pointed out this was “an attempt to instill fear in students without them ever looking into statistics,” which several attendees said as well.
“We should be igniting change, not fear,” Baldie said. She and other attendees felt that the effort to protect students from a potential active shooting should not be centered solely around armed forces.
Additionally, attendees questioned why no drills had been done to teach the student body how to respond during such an emergency.
“If we did lockdown drills in middle school, we can do drills now,” junior N’Dea Tucker said. She, like many other students, felt that such alternatives were preferable to the presence of armed officers on campus.
Overall, the crowd agreed that the possibility of an active shooter on campus was not high enough to risk accidentally shooting a non-threatening person.
Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Jonathan Burdick added that it was likely that officers would be trained to shoot fatally in the face of perceived danger.
“What does this community do if an armed community officer […] accidentally shoots somebody on this campus?’ Burdick asked. “I’m not sure [we] could survive that kind of problem.”
The audience also agreed that they wanted the proposal gone.
“When the proposal is off the table, then we can talk about trust and transparency,” a student at the meeting said. “Until this is off the table, we can’t move forward.”
Eagan shared that urgency.
“We can’t afford mistakes,” she said. “We can’t afford ‘I’m sorry’.”
Now, MSAB is writing a counterproposal with quantitative and qualitative sources. The board remains persistent in pursuing a town hall with DPS and has sent out a third request.