Many prospective campus proposals to reimagine campus safety and security were discussed at the symposium
During the second live University of California Campus Symposium on March 24, students, staff and faculty members met to discuss the future of campus policing and the role of the university’s police departments. UC students from the UC Student Association (UCSA), the UC Graduate and Professional Council (UCGPC), No UCPD Coalition and more called for policy changes and budget reallocation to the UCPD.
The symposium began with opening remarks from UC Regent John A. Perez and UC President Michael V. Drake. Drake reflected on the past symposium and the months of discussion between students, staff and community members about their experiences with policing on and off campus, acknowledging that these experiences and perspectives are important.
“We want to assure you that we are listening, learning and committed to real change,” Drake said.
He mentioned that despite the symposium having no prescribed or fixed outcome, as there is currently no fixed procedure on how campus safety looks, the discussion is “guided by the same desire” to create a more respectful and safe community within the UC. A proposed summer action plan is designed to inform campus plans for the fall and to envision the future of campus safety and policing.
Due to a lack of student involvement from the last symposium, the discussion began with a presentation from Naomi Riley, the UC Council of Presidents co-chair and an undergraduate student at UCLA, and Naomi Waters, the vice chair of the UCSA Racial Justice Now at UC Riverside. Other students provided opening remarks, including UCSA President Aidan Arasasingham, an undergraduate student at UCLA, and UCGPC President Gwen Chodur, a graduate student at UC Davis.
“The problem of over-policing at the UC in our communities is not new, and students, faculty and staff are justifiably tired of discussing the problem every few years with only Band-Aid solutions on the table,” Arasasingham said. “This symposium asks us to think older, to think and to ask, ‘What solutions truly re-envision [what] campus safety looks like from the ground up?’”
Citing the aftermaths of the 1965 Watts Rebellion and the 1992 Los Angeles uprising, Arasasingham mentioned how solutions to campus safety exist if a similar model to the solutions to both uprisings is followed. The solutions that resulted from both events called for an investment in basic needs instead of over-policing, according to Arasasingham.
“By the end of these symposium discussions, we have either the opportunity to be a mirror reflecting the failed status quo policies and thinkings that have guided racialized over- policing for decades, or [we have] a window into a new and transformative view of campus safety that breaks from our past and lights the way to our future,” Arasasingham said.
Chodur added how most of the student position is “overwhelmingly abolitionist.”
“This is not a radical position, this is not an uninformed position,” Chodur said. “Our stance is informed by the lived experiences of our community and by rigorous scholarship performed by faculty at our institution.”
She further mentioned how the UC system adopted a new framework which examined basic needs beyond food and housing for students to succeed academically. Chodur called for the UC to approach a similar idea to campus safety to see what needs to be changed so all students feel safe and secure.
Riley and Waters provided a list of student demands, which included policy changes regarding UCPD policing, and safety and budget reallocation to address student needs like combatting student homelessness, food security, mental health services and more.
They further cited how the UC campuses spent $136 million on policing alone in the 2019-2020 school year despite other programs going unfunded. They called for a reduction in the number of officers by at least 40%, the elimination of mutual aid between municipal and state police and shared governance over campus operations between faculty and students.
Riley mentioned how despite many attempts of state and local programs to reform the police department through body cameras, anti-bias training and more, none can get at the roots of policing as it is an “inherently oppressive institution that must be abolished.”
Riley referred to Graduate Center Professor Ruth Wilson Gilmore, who has emphasized protection through life-affirming institutions.
“Building life-affirming institutions at the UC looks like investing in students’ basic needs: Providing housing for all students, creating institutions that believe and support survivors, increas[ing] recruitment and retention efforts for those most marginalized [and] challenging notions of criminality, power and justice,” Riley said. “In the upcoming months, the UC has a chance to put this theory into practice, to lead the nation in reimagining campus safety, to repair harm that silencing and systemic racism has inflicted on our communities of Black, Indigenous and people of color, and to build a university [that] truly allows its students, staff and faculty to thrive.”
Liz Halimah, the associate vice provost of Student and Equity Affairs at the UC Office of the President, shared prospective campus proposals to re-imagine campus safety and security. Some campuses are thinking of creating mental health police/crisis teams for wellness checks or crisis response, having students serve as community service officers, introducing public safety officers, using data to better inform resource allocation and de-emphasizing enforcement of minor traffic violations.
The proposals have also included reconciliation methods, such as UCPD outreach to historically marginalized communities, acknowledging past harms and trauma and integrating campus anti-racism initiatives.
Halimah shared that there are undergraduate and graduate students who already serve on police advisory boards and campus safety task forces, but the hope is to further engage students through town halls, focus groups, personal security training and task forces.
Further faculty and student discussion touched on reconciliation, accountability and data transparency, as well as the current and future roles of police and non-police.
Jack Clarke Jr., the chair of the Task Force on Campus Safety at UC Riverside, commented on the re-examination and re-assigning roles of campus police.
“The concept of policing should be more [of] a movement of community and in this case, campus safety overall,” Clarke Jr. said. “That would require considering and implementing a series of campus elements that could address mental health concerns, address people who are simply in crisis [and] address situations where force is not being used. The [UC] Riverside Campus is considering and making efforts to create a department that reflects those concepts.”
Martin Reed, the assistant vice chancellor for Student Life and Residence Education at UC Merced addressed the UCMPD’s role in helping to address Title IX cases and helping to deal with students of concern, stating that the removal of the campus police could be harmful.
“They’re not perfect, but I prefer them over Merced City and Merced County police,” said Reed.
Nicole Green, the executive director of CARE and the director of Counseling and Psychological Services at UCLA, touched on stigmatization and criminalization of mental illness at the UC and the role the police play.
“What has happened is that police have been used in a lot of ways to sort of mitigate and respond to mental health crises,” Green said. “When UCPD is often called, the assessment is rudimentary in a lot of ways, restricted to a few basic questions and officers can’t really go on in a more sophisticated way like a mental health clinician [could]. There is no real intervention being offered at the moment beyond just de-escalating a crisis and maybe a referral.”
Kerby Lynch, a graduate student at UC Berkeley and the co-chair of the Independent Advisory Board, mentioned personal incidents with the UCPD and called attention to Black student lives lost due to hostile campus climate at Berkeley, specifically.
“The role of UCPD is that we have to invest in internal affairs, we have to invest in people in the department who have the actual skill-set in accountability,” Lynch said.
In the closing remarks, Drake thanked those in the discussion and highlighted how the UC is impacted by issues of our society.
“We know that [the issues discussed] also exist across the street from our campus and our broader cities and we have to work in ways to address these issues of oppression and systemic racism that exist throughout our society,” Drake said.
Written by: Annette Campos — firstname.lastname@example.org