How Jesuit universities are confronting implicit bias in campus security
On Aug. 22, Danielle Morgan, an English professor at Santa Clara University in California, was dancing gleefully to “You Can’t Stop The Beat,” a favorite song from the musical “Hairspray,” in the off-campus home she and her family have lived in since 2016. Her brother, Carlos, had finally come to visit from Sacramento—the coronavirus had kept them apart since the winter—and Dr. Morgan felt a happiness in her bones that was rare in the midst of the months-long pandemic.
Then she heard a knock at her door. It was her brother—and an S.C.U. campus safety officer.
The man with the badge wanted to see her campus identification. He wanted proof that Dr. Morgan, a Black woman, lived at the house where she had opened the door and that her brother, a Black man who security officers had forced to leave campus, was telling the truth when he said his sister, a professor, lived at this university-owned house. Other officers and security vehicles soon arrived on the scene.
While deaths at the hands of police make headlines, the problem of implicit bias in policing and security for most Black Americans is experienced as a daily psychic burden.
Dr. Morgan shared an account of the altercation on Twitter. The post quickly garnered tens of thousands of retweets and likes.
Every Black person can share an experience of racial bias like that, she told America. “The way policing manifests itself for Black people is just devastating,” she said.
While deaths at the hands of police make headlines, the problem of implicit bias in policing and security for most Black Americans is experienced as a daily psychic burden. “It doesn’t have to be that you get killed,” she said, “‘just detained’ or arrested or hassled or made to feel unsafe that all of these things are happening. It shouldn’t take somebody necessarily dying every time for us to care about it.”
Santa Clara president Kevin O’Brien, S.J., reached out to the Morgan family that day and wrote to the university community expressing his sorrow over what had happened. He also noted some next steps in response to the incident.
#NotMyLoyola on campus
S.C.U. is not the only Catholic university facing a reckoning with racism in how campus security is administered. In 2018, officers of Saint Louis University campus security allegedly drew their weapons on four different Black pedestrians across the campus following reports of a person carrying a gun described as “Black.” No arrest was made, and among those detained by campus security was the person who had phoned in the report.
The same year at Loyola University Chicago, campus police roughly treated two students of color who had asked why two Black men inside the student center were being detained. Officers pushed a Black student to the ground, then handcuffed and held him for 45 minutes, and one officer yanked a Latina student by the collar of her shirt and held her against a wall.
“You are paying to study at this university, to live at this university and to grow and develop at this university, yet how can you really achieve your fullest potential for success if you don’t even feel safe?”
Students protested this altercation and the insecurity on campus experienced by Black community members in what was called the #NotMyLoyola movement. Loyola soon created a task force to improve campus police relations with students of color. The school also hired Hillard Heintze to investigate the incident, although their final report found there to be no misconduct by campus security.
Students continue to protest these events and the university’s response to them. Elise Purnsley and Connor Elmore, the co-presidents of the Loyola Black Cultural Center, told America that one of their primary aims is building a better relationship between campus safety and the student body.
“We really just want all students to feel safe on campus—that’s really the goal—and that’s [campus safety’s] goal as well,” Ms. Purnsley told America. “You are paying to study at this university, to live at this university and to grow and develop at this university, yet how can you really achieve your fullest potential for success if you don’t even feel safe at the place [where] you’re supposed to eat, sleep and breathe?”
S.C.U. provost Lisa Kloppenberg detailed some of the next steps the university is contemplating in response to the incident at Dr. Morgan’s home. Ms. Kloppenberg told America that all employees in campus safety as well as other university leaders—including the president, the president’s cabinet and the provost’s team—will begin anti-bias training led by Rebecca Hetey, the associate director of Criminal Justice Partnerships and Research Scientist at Stanford SPARQ, a “do tank” that focuses on ways to reduce societal disparities and divides. The university has also retained retired Judge LaDoris Cordell to conduct a review of campus safety services.
Ms. Cordell “will bring rigor, fairness and compassion to the process. Together with Father O’Brien, we strongly believe that this is how we improve as a community,” Ms. Kloppenberg told America by email.
Some S.C.U. students and alumni took to social media to say those moves would not be enough to address a racial bias they perceive among campus security. They called instead for cuts to the security budget, suggesting that students would be better served if resources were directed to other needs like mental health services. University officials said that S.C.U. leadership will continue meeting with Black and other student groups to address their concerns.
A relationship that requires work
In June, after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, students of Loyola’s Black Cultural Center and co-signing L.U.C. organizations submitted a letter, “In Support of Black Students: 2020 Suggestions and Recommendations,” to university administrators, faculty and staff and shared the document on social media.
If campus security officers want respect, “then they need to show it in return. Based on my experiences and those of a lot of students of color, we’re not being respected.”
The letter offers recommendations for improving Black student life on campus. The final recommendation focused on campus safety initiatives, noting that “it is the relationship between L.U.C Campus Safety and the Black community that requires the most work.”
The writers shared five recommendations specifically related to campus safety, asking for an overhaul of campus safety policy and the publication of campus security conduct records. They asked that the semi-anonymity of officers who do not display badges or names be ended and requested that security officers be offered racial sensitivity training and that university security cut ties with the Chicago Police Department.
Protestors expressed frustration that the university had yet to publicly acknowledge the concerns of Black students as the end of summer approached. A formal, public recognition of the document was sent to the university community on Aug. 28, when the Division of Student Development released two messages, one that acknowledged the document and expressed the administration’s desire to improve Black life at the university and commended peaceful student protestors who have gathered on campus for the past two weeks. Another message provided the community with updates on the progress L.U.C. is making in response to each of the 10 recommendations.
Ms. Purnsley and Mr. Elmore say that an improved relationship between campus security and the student body will require transparency and communication on the part of the department and its officers.
Mr. Elmore—who said he has been racially profiled himself and questioned by campus security on a regular basis—also believes the department needs to commit to becoming “part of the Loyola family” and legitimately serving the students of color as people they are sworn to protect.
“If they [campus security officers] are asking for respect, then they need to show it in return. Based on my experiences and those of a lot of students of color, we’re not being respected,” Mr. Elmore told America. “I do think this is a microcosm of the general overarching conversation about people of color, Black people and their relationship with local forms of law enforcement.
Danielle Morgan: “I think my experience demonstrates that there is an urgency here. Campus administrations all across the country need to be making daily moves to rectify these kinds of situations.”
“I think protection and care for others—one of our Jesuit values—can show up in more ways than just a direct response [to incidents].”
A call to action
In June, Black faculty chairs and directors of African-American and Africana studies at different Catholic universities and colleges across the United States posted a call to action to Catholic university communities through the African-American Intellectual History Society.
“While this [Black Lives Matter] movement has arisen in response to the social crisis of policing in society at large, many of us have experienced negative interactions with campus police at our institutions,” the letter’s signatories wrote. “Systemic racism and white supremacy are problems even at Catholic institutions,” they added, suggesting that “Catholic universities and colleges across the U.S. can play a pivotal and leading role in the transformation being called for on America’s streets.”
These faculty members outlined a series of actions that Catholic universities can take to further real justice for their Black communities. The first item on the list: “Reconsider relationships between campus police, local police, and universities, with an eye toward the particular vulnerabilities of Black university community members.”
Dr. Morgan of S.C.U. told America that the society’s call to action offers a playbook for Catholic institutions seeking to implement restorative justice and create the safe environment that Black faculty, staff and students have been advocating for since the 1960s.
Problems with implicit racism in campus security are also a reflection of the nation’s broader problems with race and policing, she said. “To talk about policing we really have to remember the origin of policing and the way policing serves to limit the movement of Black and brown bodies through what is viewed as white territory, which is the entirety of the United States.”
According to Dr. Morgan, it is no longer acceptable for school administrators to offer vague assurances about efforts to seek long-term solutions to on-campus racism.
“The time for imagining how to do this as a long-term thing is over,” she said. “I think my experience demonstrates that there is an urgency here. Campus administrations all across the country need to be making daily moves to rectify these kinds of situations so that this doesn’t happen again.”
Other Catholic universities are also moving forward with plans to address campus security bias. According to a university spokesperson, the Georgetown University Police Department is developing new procedures with the Innovative Policing Program led by G.U. Law Center faculty and has also teamed up with undergraduate student program assistants this summer to implement additional diversity and implicit bias training for all officers.
The Catholic University of America is putting together a Safety First Advisory Committee to “promote continued safety and positive relationships between the Department of Public Safety and the campus community,” Karna Lozoya, a C.U.A. spokesperson, told America by email.
Students from both Georgetown and C.U.A. publicly demanded reforms to campus police or security departments over the summer. Black students at Catholic universities all over the nation are pushing for tangible change.
“One of the reasons I was so attracted to Santa Clara University when I was on the [academic job] market was its commitment to social justice,” Dr. Morgan said. “That I believed that this institution—as much as any institution can—that it wanted to quite literally practice what it preached. And I’m interested to see how that practice manifests itself in this moment in the upcoming weeks.”