In order that they might better keep campus safe and secure, Safety and Security is undergoing an intensive process that will review and improve its current policies and procedures.
After several incidents last semester that were believed to be racially-charged caused many members of the Vassar community to question the methods that Safety and Security utilized to identify and respond to situations on campus, Safety and Security and the administration have decided to assess the department and determine if and where improvements can be made. To this end, the administration has brought in Margolis Healy and Associates, an outside consulting firm that specializes in working with college campuses.
Advisors from Margolis will be arriving on campus this week. Although this will be the first time they are on-campus, Margolis has been reviewing documents and policies relating to Safety and Security at Vassar all summer.
The actual on-campus inspection was scheduled for after the summer so that Margolis would be able to see what the campus environment looks like with students on it, said Dean of the College Christopher Roellke.
“We wanted to get this review scheduled as early in the fall as possible as we very much wanted students to be here for the intensive parts of the review rather than conduct it while students were on summer recess,” said Roellke.
Once the advisors arrive, they will be reviewing everything that they couldn’t review over the summer, including the training and procedures of the Safety and Security staff. They will also be talking to leadership and members of the community to get a feel for the campus. These series of meetings will help the advisors to learn about the state of campus, as well as the various perceptions of Safety and Security and any incidents that have happened in recent years.
Once they have completed these reviews, Margolis will provide the college administration with a comprehensive report on what Vassar can do better to make the school a safer place. Within the report, they will identify any problematic areas they find and recommend changes to these areas and it will then be up to the Vassar administration to implement the recommendations.
“We will assess whether the Safety and Security Department has adopted an appropriate campus public safety model based, in part, on the environment and campus expectations,” reads a statement by Margolis Healy and Associates sent to Roellke. “We will evaluate the operational procedures and overall safety and security policies and systems as a foundation of the College’s due diligence.”
To help the administration make the adjustments that will best improve the health of campus life, the College is appointing a Safety and Security Advisory Committee as an aid and a go-between for the administration and students. The Advisory Committee will be chaired by Julian Williams, Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action. Williams believes the Council can help make Vassar a safer and better place.
“The installation of the Advisory Committee will be very good,” said Williams. “We want it to be very open and show students and faculty that there are resources available.”
The Committee will be comprised of six members of the Vassar community: two administrators, two faculty members and two student representatives. The administrators on the council are Williams and Ja’Wanda Grant, Director of the Q-Center. Professors David Bradley, of the Physics and Astronomy Departments, and April Beisal, of Anthropology, are both faculty members who reside on campus, and will be the faculty representatives on the Committee. The two student representatives have yet to be chosen, but they will soon be voted in by the VSA.
Having a diverse council is a necessary and wise decision, in Williams’ opinion.
“Students and faculty live on campus 24/7. They experience safety and security differently [than those who do not live on campus],” said Williams. “I hope they’ll bring passion and energy to the council. Campus is their home. I think student input will be very important.”
After Margolis has completed their review and the VSA has picked the student representatives, the Committee will begin holding meetings. The role of the Committee is not only to recommend changes to the administration; the Committee will also help educate the community and raise awareness on a variety of other safety and security concerns, including sexual assault, domestic violence and crime prevention.
“[The Committee] can serve as a sounding board for students who may have had troublesome interactions with security,” said Williams.
At the end of the year, the Committee will compile a comprehensive report that will be sent both to President Hill and also made available to the campus community as a whole. The report will record the various activities of the Committee throughout the year, as well as a list of all of the incidents and reports of incidents they have documented throughout the year. It will also list any findings and recommendations for the next school year upon which the Committee has agreed.
The Committee will provide a procedure to file complaints for students and members of the community that feel that they have been discriminated against in any fashion. Williams urges that anyone who has experienced an incident of discrimination or profiling bring it to the attention of the administration and members of the Committee so that the information can be included in their reports, and a strong look taken at the appropriate policies and procedures.
After both the Margolis and Committee reports have been completed and handed over to the Administration, Williams hopes that the changes will be swiftly implemented.
“We’re trying to be proactive and address any problems we have right now,” Williams said of why Safety and Security is being so closely scrutinized.
The review of Safety and Security is motivated largely by several incidents of racial profiling that occurred last spring, most notably an altercation between security officers and some local teenagers which eventually ended up involving the police. Williams and other members of the Vassar community have been pushing ever since to have these incidents addressed. “Some issues that arose last semester have heightened the need to address concerns and review procedures and policies.” Said Williams. “Hopefully, a lot of good things will come out of it.”