Sunday, September 15, 2019

Overheard remark raises questions about profiling on campus



For the majority of my time at Trinity I have been unequivocally under the impression that everyone was overreacting about campus safety. After all, I’m from a large city myself, so robberies and crime to me were a reality of urban life and not something to be overanalyzed. The debate about closing campus and increasing security to me seemed unnecessary and indeed problematic as I imagined it would only add to the deep tension with our community members outside our gates, and could exacerbate problems on campus with the profiling of students of color by other students, or even campus safety. But this semester I have been on alert. I’ve tread more lightly on campus and double-checked my surroundings as the paranoia which had been instilled in me reared its head. When passing the scenes of robberies I thought about what I would do if I were ambushed by a hooded figure who ordered me to hand over my possessions, and I avoided areas which to me seemed unsafe. All the while I thought about the fact that I was thinking this as a 6’1 male, and could only imagine what others may feel while they make their own trek across campus. But then something happened that made me think.

One night while I was on campus I was within clear earshot of a campus safety radio and I heard something. “There’s a student in the parking lot with their car light on,” said one campus safety officer. To which presumably a superior responded, “he’s white, that’s not our priority.” As soon as I heard that I turned to my friend to make sure that I heard correctly, and indeed I had. We sat for a moment in silence to register what we had heard. If white folks are not the priority of these campus safety officers, it is easy to infer who are.

Now, I know that some readers may question why this was such a big deal. Aren’t most crimes against Trinity students committed by Hartford residents who are predominantly nonwhite? I don’t have the numbers, but probably. Shouldn’t the focus of campus safety’s scrutiny be on those same non trinity students who seek to do us harm? Sure.

However, these are not the central questions; the central question is how campus safety and our student body determine who these people are. Sure, the majority of people who commit robberies on this campus may be people of color who are not Trinity students, but that does not mean that every person who meets such a description is intending to do harm to Trinity students, and it does not mean that a white Trinity student who would not meet such criterion would not have such motives.

Though I am white, and I have the privilege of not being racially profiled in this manner, this irks me on a visceral level. This irks me because I, like many white Trinity students, feel entitled to break the rules or the law without fear of consequences because I am not perceived as “suspicious looking.” This irks me because I have to hear stories of my friends of color being watched as they browse the aisles of convenience stores because they are perceived as a threat. This irks me because wearing a Trinity hoodie and bean boots does not preclude you from the ability to do harm to another person or to participate in illegal activity. I can only imagine what it feels like for a person of color, Hartford resident or Trinity student alike, to walk across our campus and immediately be labeled as a criminal by campus safety and our student body because of their appearance, and I think that this merits some thought from all people who have never been touched by such injustice.

I write this not as a vendetta against campus safety. I think that they have made an honest effort to curtail crime on campus, and have had to make due with an extremely difficult situation. Also, I have no information to make me believe one way or another whether this employee (to my knowledge many of the new campus safety personnel are not in fact campus safety officers, but are private contractors) was acting on his own intuition or simply following campus safety protocol.

What I do know are two things: that no one on the other end of the radio told him he was acting in an inappropriate manner and that this is not acceptable.

I want to feel safe on campus. I do not want any more Trinity students to be robbed of their possessions, or to be put in harm’s way. However, I do not want my security at the price of others’ ability to walk across campus and without being perceived as a criminal, simply because of the color of their skin.

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