By Naomi Cherone
Students and professors of the University of California expressed concern with what they felt were “baseless” promises voiced at the UC Campus Safety Symposium on Tuesday.
On the first day of the symposium, professors, students, presidents, and vice-chancellors, spoke about the misconduct of police officers in this last year alone. From addressing the Black Lives Matter protests catalyzed by the wrongful killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, it was evident that college campuses across the nation continue to face these same threats, despite attempts by UC officials to make reforms.
The question then became: What will the University of California do in order to keep up with its responsibility of upholding campus safety measures? To address this, representatives across different campuses—the University of Oregon, University of Maryland, Yale Law School, and the UC’s, were called to weigh in on what their specific institutions had been doing and what changes they were foreseeing.
The presenters and attendees unanimously agreed that campus policing practices needed reform, but there was a lot of disagreement as to how that would be brought about. After each representative presented their stance, eventually two conclusions were reached—either abolishing the campus police entirely or resorting to mediums of policy change and campus police reform.
Many students feel that defunding the campus police department is the only viable option, yet this claim did not sit well with many speakers at the symposium, including Michael Schill. According to Schill, president of the University of Oregon, abolishing the campus police department was a far-fetched proposition, stating, “We need to make decisions based on the world we live in, not the world of our dreams.”
Meanwhile, Caroline Nobo Sarnoff, Executive Director and Research Scholar in Law of The Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School contextualized what “abolish” operationally meant. “It was not calling on the complete removal of police,” Sarnoff said.
Gary Margolis, Safety and Security Expert, added that the “abolish” claim was put into question “the roots on which policing grew from—that of corruption, power-grabs, and its initiation on slaveholder ideals.”
The students and professors of the UC system dismissed Sarnoff’s call to action as they reiterated that police removal is what was being sought after, and not the latter.
Following this correction, one of the participants added in the comment section of the symposium that, “[the] entire trajectory of this forum is police reform, police training, and expansion of policing power by way of ‘alternative’ apparatuses. The formula is almost as old as modern policing itself.”
During this event, there was therefore an evident discordance and misunderstanding among stances on-campus policing changes—the divide growing greater between those standing for abolition and those for reform.
With the animosity and tension front and center, viewers remained expectant of the question and answer section of the symposium, in hopes of clearing up what campus safety measures would look like for upcoming quarters. This continues to be a pressing concern as UC President Michael Drake has mentioned in a system-wide message, “As the university continues to monitor the evolution of the pandemic, [the UC system] is also carefully planning a safe return to in-person classes.”
With the intercollegiate spirit on campus expecting to revive as classes revert from the remote format, it is without question that students remain adamant about ensuring that their safety remains the top priority. Students are also strongly working to support changes that reflect the protection of their peers of color—ensuring they are no longer subjected to the discriminatory and racial biases imparted by campus police officers.
Rashawn Ray, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland, expressed that “peacemaking techniques to bridge relationships with police officers and college students will not suffice in fixing the bigger issue at hand.”
Dr. Ray went on to say that it is crucial to look at the campus police debacle through the lens of people of color. “Simply thinking about reform,” he said, “will not change anything as statistics continue to show that African American individuals continue to be killed disproportionately by police officers.”
Naomi Watts, a current student at the UC Riverside, provided salient remarks on behalf of the UC student body. “We must challenge the UC to be a leader—not just in technical or mathematical sciences, but also in equity, justice, and safety for all. Niceties will simply not do,” said Watts.
Watts, nor the student body, seem to be willing to compromise their claims. They hope that the UC system will abide by abolishing campus police sooner rather than later.
In accordance with Watts’s claims, many UC students have taken matters into their own hands through organizing protests and forming organizations that represent their abolition claims. Students at UCLA have spearheaded movements such as the No UCPD Coalition, which “aims to defund, disarm, and dismantle the University of California Police Department through research, community organizing, and mass mobilization.” This group claims that they “envision a world without police and state-sanctioned violence, both in our communities and on campus.”
Safety remains primordial for the UCs, and its students, but only time will tell by what means that will be accomplished.
Naomi Cherone is a writer for the LA Vanguard’s social justice desk. She is a San Diego native that is majoring in Sociology at UCLA, while planning on pursuing law in the near future.
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