Within the past year at Brown, we have all witnessed a heightened discussion about our Department of Public Safety amid an ongoing national dialogue about how officers handle weapons and force. Especially in light of recent events — namely, the Latinx Ivy League Conference incident and the termination of the officer involved — this discourse has drawn prominent attention and concern from students. DPS and the school administration have responded with promises of transparency, open discussion and consideration of student feedback. In a recent email, Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06 acknowledged that “these matters arise in the context of a difficult and challenging campus and national conversation regarding the roles and responsibilities of law enforcement” and explained that “(the Public Safety Oversight Committee) will be engaging in outreach discussion with students to gather feedback and input.” Upon reading this statement, I appreciated the apparent acknowledgement of the role students should play in discussing how law enforcement should conduct itself on campus.
But this guarantee for student involvement fell flat when an open public information forum — held for Brown community members and members of the general public to voice comments on the department — was scheduled for over spring break, when an overwhelming majority of students will not be able to participate. This forum is part of a reaccreditation process that occurs every three years in order to assess DPS’s role on campus. Scheduling the event in such a way that most students will miss this crucial opportunity to voice concerns directly contradicts the administration’s promise. Though the administration has asserted that it is not in the University’s power to reschedule the forum and that anyone may comment over the phone during a two-hour period on the same day, this does not serve as an excuse for such untimely scheduling and the inevitable silencing of students’ voices that will occur due to the inconvenience. The University should at least address the inappropriate timing of this discussion, and, ideally, offer an alternative forum at which students can contribute fully. The University must uphold its promise and allow students to voice their thoughts on this issue.
This news should disappoint all students. Each one of us has a right to participate in the conversation about the role of DPS and law enforcement on our campus, because these decisions affect every single member of this community. It is thus our responsibility to give this issue consideration, to educate ourselves on these matters and to communicate our concerns to our peers, DPS and the administration. It is also the responsibility of DPS and the administration to not simply recognize the importance of student voices, but to take them into utmost consideration, as we comprise the vast majority of people affected by DPS’s policies. There should not be selective participation in this dialogue; the importance of this discussion necessitates the attention of every Brown community member. Regardless of what our views on DPS are, we should all be frustrated with an administration that cannot uphold the promise of a space for our voices.
This conversation about DPS is considerably more comprehensive than it has ever been before. Especially in the midst of a national, ongoing debate about the role of law enforcement, this is no longer an issue the relevance of which can be isolated as a matter of campus safety. It is impossible to talk about DPS being armed without also participating in a national conversation about policing, authority and law enforcement at large, and this is why these issues carry such weight. The conversation taking place across the country includes discussion of grave and nuanced topics, such as police brutality, racial profiling and institutional oppression — influences that inevitably also affect our campus. It is herein that lies the complexity and consequent importance of this discourse.
In the microcosm of our Brown community, we have the potential to move toward the sort of justice on our campus that many U.S. residents affected by local law enforcement cannot bring to fruition as easily. We can serve as a model of progressive change and open dialogue against a national climate of policing injustice. This is a goal that students, administrators and DPS should all strive for as members of the Brown community, but it cannot happen if the voices of students do not reach the ears of the University. The administration needs to keep its promise of transparency and open discussion, or it will risk forfeiting students’ trust.
Margaret Hu ’18 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.