Updated Nov. 15, 2015 at 7:42 p.m.
Geovanni Cuevas, a Dartmouth student and senior delegate to this weekend’s Latinx Ivy League Conference, was assaulted late Friday evening outside of a Spanish House event by a Department of Public Safety officer, according to Cuevas and several witnesses. The incident was described as a “heated and physical” altercation by Russell Carey ’91 MA’06, executive vice president for planning and policy, in a community-wide email Saturday evening.
The University has launched an investigation of the incident and has taken the officer off patrol for the duration of the investigation, Carey wrote. President Christina Paxson P’19 also took part in an open forum Saturday regarding the incident, at which students expressed frustration with the University’s inaction on addressing racist and white supremacist structures affecting people of color and conference delegates presented a list of demands.
In a campus-wide email Saturday evening, Paxson listed the “immediate actions” the administration is taking in addition to the investigation, including committing to fund a rescheduled conference so that every student can attend for free and sending an apology letter to the presidents of delegates’ home institutions.
Waiting to enter a Spanish House party with two Brown students, Cuevas told The Herald he witnessed two security officers “aggressively confront” a drunk Brown student. He said he told the officers they were acting “inappropriately” after seeing them make severe eye contact with and pat down the individual “in a way that made it very clear that the power was in the officer’s hands and that the person that was being touched just needed to sit there and take it.”
Cuevas said the officers then motioned to him, “reminded me that I was supposed to shut up and listen to them” and accused him of trespassing. After Cuevas reiterated that he was a guest of Brown students, officers told him, “I outrank the Brown students,” he said.
Cuevas said he then left the line, and the officers told him if he returned to Machado House he would be considered to be trespassing. But, as Cuevas was being hosted by two Brown students who live in Machado, he re-entered the building through the back entrance to find his hosts. When he did not find them in their room, Cuevas said he went downstairs to the party to look for them.
“The officer found me before I could find my host,” Cuevas said. “The next thing I know, when I enter the laundry room of Machado, I’m slammed against the wall and then thrown to the ground and told that I was going to be pepper sprayed. … I was also told that I was resisting, and I was obviously not.”
The officer then handcuffed him, Cuevas said, and took him outside, detaining him until Brown students arrived and verified that he was a guest for the conference.
During this time, Cuevas was asked if he had a cell phone, said Princeton student Samuel Vilchez Santiago, who was present at the time. When Cuevas responded that he did not, the officer asked him, “How the hell do you communicate, then?”
Santiago added that several more officers arrived while Cuevas was handcuffed outside of Machado. “Why do they need seven cops to hold someone who was handcuffed and unarmed?”
“I had the audacity to vocalize my dissent, and they intimidated me, they threatened me and they had all of the bravado that’s exemplary of the police issues that we’re seeing in the media today,” Cuevas said.
Cuevas spent the night at the Johnson and Wales University chapter of his fraternity, La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Incorporated, because he did not feel Brown was a “safe space.”
He said he plans to pursue a Title IX complaint and work with Dartmouth’s legal counsel to see which legal actions can be taken.
Leaders of the Latinx Ivy League Conference temporarily suspended planned activities and presented a list of demands to Paxson and Chief of Police for the Department of Public Safety Mark Porter at the open meeting Saturday. In an overflowing Salomon 001, student leaders asked which actions the University would take to ensure the safety and well-being of students of color on campus.
The University launched an investigation into the incident Saturday morning. Such processes typically take seven to 14 days, Porter said during the Saturday afternoon meeting, adding that if the officer is found responsible for any wrongdoing, it could result in “anything from reprimand to a dismissal, termination … depending on the facts of the case.”
Paxson and Porter announced the decision to move the officer involved to “desk duty” halfway through the forum in response to students’ requests to fire or suspend the officer. Students identified him as Officer 201, but Porter said the officer’s name cannot be released until the end of the investigation as the collective bargaining agreement and union contract are a part of the investigatory process.
“We don’t want an investigation that’s a slap on the wrist. We want something real,” one student said.
Delegates’ demands included a formal apology from Paxson, reimbursement for all conference participants, future funding for another conference and bimonthly meetings between Paxson and student leaders of color. Students also called for increased diversity of security staff, a public forum to address student grievances with DPS and measures to improve DPS’ sensitivity and accountability.
Citing the department’s national accreditation and annual diversity and sensitivity training, Porter said, “We take a strong stance on any inappropriate behavior by our officers.”
Students at the forum questioned whether DPS could hold itself accountable, why DPS officers carry guns and who officers are trying to protect.
“Day in, day out, the officers do a good job in terms of protecting this community,” Porter said.
“And they do a great job of policing black and brown bodies on this campus that belong to this community as well,” one student responded.
Students also noted that the racial descriptions included in crime alerts contribute to racial profiling on campus. Porter said the U.S. Department of Education requires these descriptions.
These emails sometimes include descriptors such as “medium complexion,” “dark complexion” and “Latino,” one student said. “So how are people of color supposed to be safe if all of us in this room fit that description? How are we supposed to feel safe?”
Many students agreed that racial profiling — including students of color being followed by officers when walking home to their dorms — was a rampant problem perpetuated by DPS.
At Friday night’s event at Machado, officers at the doors “were turning away students that were part of the Latinx Ivy Conference,” said one student who was working at the event. “That is not acceptable.”
Students also criticized the University’s handling of issues facing marginalized people more generally, stating that administrators’ talk frequently goes unaccompanied by substantive action.
“Everyone that you have right now making the decisions is part of the system that perpetuates this racism,” one student said to applause.
“I want to address a couple issues,” Paxson said. “The most important is to say I’m really sorry that you’re going through this.”
“We’ve been telling you this for three years,” responded Justice Gaines ’16, who uses the pronouns xe, xem and xyr. “You’re not that sorry.”
“Every time we have community forums about these issues, we talk about it, it gets fixed, a Band-Aid gets put on it, but the wound is still there,” one student said. “What are you doing to fix it? Not conversation — what are the actions you are taking?”
Paxson said she would be sending out a plan for diversity and inclusion Sunday that lists “clear actions” being taken. It was unclear at press time whether the email sent Saturday evening replaced the one to which she was referring or was in addition to it.
When asked by a student which new solutions to institutional racism are included in the plan, Paxson said, “I don’t have a solution to the problem that is raised right here. I don’t have that.”
Paxson said Sunday’s email would focus “on some things that we think will make a difference fast, and make an impact fast. We do not have anything in this list about policing, and we have to think about that.”
“You keep saying this shit, but you’re ignoring us,” Gaines said. “We’ve been screaming at you,” xe added.
“You’re not of color so you can’t really tell us how we feel about this,” said Chinedu Irofuala ’17, adding, “You’re also not the person who’s feeling unsafe.”
“What I heard was that you don’t want Brown to have this happen again, you don’t want racial profiling at Brown, you don’t want DPS at Brown,” Paxson said. “We start by looking into this case, and then we start looking more broadly and systemically about what we do.”
When Paxson said she knows racism exists in society and on the University’s campus, one student responded, “It’s not racism; it’s white supremacy.”
“I am here to tell you that when I was on this campus, I was too afraid to have the conversation that we’re having now,” said Carmen Rodriguez ’83, a former Corporation member. “So I want you to know that yes it’s not perfect, but things have changed.”
“It doesn’t matter whether things have changed, because they still suck,” Gaines said.
Rodriguez told students they are “very lucky” to have a president like Paxson who advocates for diversity.
“How dare you tell us we’re lucky for what we get,” said Alex Karim ’17.
Porter asked for the community’s help in “polic(ing)” and improving DPS, and Paxson suggested the development of a community or student advisory board regarding DPS.
Floripa Olguin ’16 asked Paxson if the students would be compensated, adding, “This is just more student labor, more student of color labor for you.”
“Let’s figure out a way to make it work,” Paxson said, adding that perhaps compensation could be provided through the work-study program.
Students from the conference encouraged Paxson to “really think outside of the box” and “be innovative” as she responds to this incident in particular and to more general concerns about racism, police brutality and other issues on campus.
Several students left the room during the course of the meeting because it was “emotionally taxing,” Irofuala said. Another student said the “whole discussion” left many in the room feeling “emotionally traumatized.”
The final person to speak was Mary Grace Almandrez, interim assistant vice president of campus life and student services and associate dean of the College. “I hear the pain in everything that you all have shared,” she said. “When you tell us that there’s institutionalized racism at Brown, I hear you and I believe you.”
She announced that the Brown Center for Students of Color would be open to all students in the room and at the conference for the rest of the day. Staff members from Student Support Services and Counseling and Psychological Services were also available, she said.
Students from Brown and the other universities were able to give testimony about the event Saturday night if they chose to do so. Administrators said that officers taking testimony would be unarmed and that there would be staff of color available to stay with the students while they gave their statements.
“If this had happened at Dartmouth, I don’t think President Hanlon would have reached out,” said Cuevas, who was contacted by Paxson Saturday morning. “That would not have happened.”
Another Dartmouth student added that a conversation such as the one Saturday afternoon also would not have occurred on his campus.
“We cannot move forward until it is irrefutable from our actions and our deeds that students of color are valued members of our community,” Paxson wrote in her email.
“I hear you, we hear you and we know that there’s pain in this room,” Almandrez said. “So let us take care of everything. You’ve done your job; let us do our job.”