Last week, Margolis Healy & Associates released their preliminary report highlighting their findings and future recommendations for Vassar College’s Safety and Security Department. In the report, they revealed that they found the state of the security on campus to be concerning.
The evaluation cited the lack of a “Use of Force” policy within the Safety and Security Department as one major flaw leading to confusion and inconsistencies in the ways Security deals with issues on campus. There are currently no explicit guidelines for Security to follow that explains when they are allowed to stop students and faculty members. These holes within their framework create tensions between Security and the Vassar community.
The report—which cited when Poughkeepsie police were called to the Library after a noise complaint was filed against black teenagers as well as when Security was called on three women of color students to investigate “suspicious activity”—continued on to say that Margolis Healy could not definitively prove racial profiling occurs on campus due to a lack of data, but found an overwhelming perception within the Vassar community that it does occur. Due to this perception, the firm concluded that racially-charged issues have to be dealt with, whether or not they believe it happens on campus. The report also revealed that the College continues to function on antiquated policies that fail to address its continuing diversification.
The College does not currently have any type of consistent diversity and inclusion training requirements for the Safety and Security Department or for the Administration. It is clear that a change needs to be made within the upper levels of the College to address the changing composition of Vassar’s community. While the College prides itself on diversity, it fails to institute systems within that help students and faculty of color feel safe and secure on campus.
The firm offered a series of options to the College. One of the primary recommendations is to have more student involvement in the hiring practices of Safety and Security, as well as a voice in their new policies and distribute an annual survey asking the students and faculty on campus for their opinion regarding Security. However, the College is under no obligation to follow these recommendations. While pledging to institute all of the recommendations, the committee they have established to ensure this consists of senior Administrators, faculty, representatives from Security, and two VSA-appointed students. No discussion has been had about the power of the committee to force administrative action, leaving the potential for nothing to change.
Another significant point of contention has been the pledge by the College to adopt the recommendations made by the firm prior to consulting with other members of the Vassar community affected by such shifts in policy. While it is important that the College take the findings of this report seriously and follow up on its promise, they must also consider student, faculty and staff in these decisions.
We at The Miscellany News feel it is important that the College makes steps to fix these gaps in policy, revise the antiquated rules, and consider the validity of instituting these policies, before they hire new people to fill recently opened positions made vacant by the buy-out program.
Furthermore, the senior Administration needs to treat these incidents with a racially conscious view. These findings are significant and indicative of larger patterns. The Miscellany News feels that addressing these issues needs to be a top priority. A continual failure to address these issues points to a lack of thought within the Administration and that is truly unacceptable. The College is currently juggling several issues, including master planning, buy-outs and hiring. While these issues are important, they take away attention from the major issues currently affecting student and faculty. We must hold the Administration accountable for the changes they have promised, not allowing them to lose focus on this central problem.
A recently published Gawker article by Associate Professor of English Kiese Laymon shows that faculty members are also highly affected by the continued institutional negligence occurring here (Gawker, “My Vassar College ID Makes Everything OK,” Nov. 29, 2014). Another by Associate Professor of English and former Associate Dean of the Faculty Eve Dunbar, discussed her experiences with the reality that many professors and Administrators of color are subject to increased scrutiny and feel the need to constantly prove themselves to fellow faculty members. (“Who Really Burns: Quitting a Dean’s Job in the Age of Mike Brown”)
The report also showed repeated patterns of racially-charged situations, as reported by alumnae/i of the College. This continues to show the College’s lack of urgency. We want to emphasize that these issues revolve around race. Students, staff, faculty and alumnae/i have shared countless stories of profiling despite an unwillingness by the College to listen, and urge the College to see it in that light.
In the past, the onus to exact change has fallen onto students and faculty members. It is always the same group of students and faculty of color who struggle to make institutional changes at Vassar. It cannot always be the same people trying to change the College. It is neither the sole duty nor the burden of threatened and oppressed people to educate the College about these issues and to instigate shifts in policy. Many have indicated that they do not feel safe or welcome to speak in numerous spaces on campus, including Administration. The entire campus needs to recognize this reality and understand that alterations to policy must be the responsibility of many. Changes need to occur at a higher level and it is time the Administration takes action.
The Miscellany News would like to emphasize that this is an issue that needs to see change. This is not only an issue about race, but also about our institution truly caring for its students, staff and faculty and allowing them to feel safe and respected on our campus.
—The Staff Editorial represents the opinions of at least 2/3 of our Editorial Board.