On Sunday, April 27, the police were called after students made a noise complaint to the security department in the Thompson Memorial Library. The complaint was made concerning several high school-aged teenagers being too loud and distracting those in the library.
“A Vassar student called the CRC at 4:18 p.m. on Sunday, April 27 and reported that four to five teens were in the basement of the Library making noise and disrupting students trying to study,” explained Director of the Safety and Security Department Donald Marsala in an emailed statement.
Marsala said, “VC officers responded and a sergeant located the youths in the basement. They ran from him and a short time later the sergeant saw [them] exiting the Library front door.”
He continued, “When he asked for their identification to determine if they were on our trespass list, one complied, one gave two different addresses and two others refused to identify themselves. Per protocol, the police were called to assist in identifying the youths and they were able to obtain their identities.”
Some have accused this event as an instance of racial profiling.
“From what I know, some young Black boys, ages 12 to 16 were in the library and were asked to leave by a security guard responding to a noise complaint from a student in the basement,” said an anonymous student witness in an emailed statement. “The boys were getting their bikes but as they were leaving, a security guard detained them by the bikes and told them they could not leave (which I am not sure if that is allowed). The security guard, Bill Hockman, proceeded to call the police.”
The student went on, “The police arrived and the boys were then interrogated individually. The incident took about an hour and a half. There was a small group of VC students (maybe 7 people, mostly students of color) who stayed outside to bear witness to the event, in hopes to keep the security accountable.”
According to the student, however, not enough Vassar students were in tune with what was going on. They said, “Yet a larger number of student passing the event seemed unconcerned and unfazed by this incident of racial violence happening on the premises.”
The student said that white teenagers disrupting students in the library are not given the same treatment. They are concerned what security effectively profiled the teenagers in question.
“Within the last 4 weeks, I have been distracted in the library by white children running and screaming through the library; not only was this incident not addressed by the police, but it was never addressed nor silenced,” said the student.
The student continued, explaining their take on the meaning behind the incident. “This recent event is obviously racially charged. This one case is not an anomaly, as VC security has a previously called the cops on Black people (students and faculty even) and has a long-standing history of racial discrimination, and there are numerous personal testimonies of similar run-in with VC security from our student body,” they reported.
The student assures that others, too, recognize what is happening on Vassar’s campus. “Many student and faculty are perturbed by this occurrence and VC’s complicit sanctioning of racial profiling,” they said.
This isn’t the first time Vassar’s security department has been under fire for racial profiling. In 2011, students raised similar concerns, claiming that members of security would question students of color if they were Vassar students or intruding on campus. Last year, in 2013, one All College Day lecture was entitled “What does it feel like to be a problem?” after the writings of W.E.B. DuBois. The talk specifically discussed Vassar’s security officers and profiling.
This incident also affects Vassar’s relationship with the greater Poughkeepsie area.
“I think this incident is frustrating because it ultimately is a reflection of our relationship with the Poughkeepsie community,” said ALANA Center intern Susie Martinez ’15.
Martinez pointed out that Vassar allows citizens of Poughkeepsie on campus; one does not need identification to be on campus. Oftentimes, Poughkeepsie residents are invited to Vassar events and may use Vassar’s facilities during their time here.
Martinez continued, “I think a question to think about is what can we as a whole community do to promote an open campus. A lot of people already put in effort to improve relations with the Poughkeepsie community and racial profiling occurs, it just makes Vassar a more unsafe place not just for Poughkeepsie members but also for other students on campus.”
This academic year also experienced discussions around bias incidents on Vassar’s campus. President Catharine Hill wrote in an emailed statement at the time, “The outcome involving the two students doesn’t change the nature of the dialogue about bias incidents. All of our students and employees have a right to study, live and work in an environment free from damaging and hateful expressions, and as a community we have to continue to be vigilant on these issues.”
Despite the accusations of profiling, Marsala did not address these claims. As for how the incident ended, he said, “They were advised that they had been disrupting students in the Library and were asked to leave the campus. They all understood why they were questioned and left the area.”