posted on: Thursday September 3, 2020
by Savannah Plaisted ‘21
Providence College itself was quick to make statements condemning racism in the wake of the brutal murder of George Floyd. However, one department has been expressly called out for discriminatory practices and has said nothing publically on the matter to date.
Per its website, “The Office of Public Safety strives to maintain an atmosphere of professionalism, courtesy and respect, while embracing diversity through community engagement, and hiring and training practices that enhance the overall mission of Providence College.”Yet even with this mission, the office remains silent.
In response to the current civil rights movement, it is increasingly necessary for the organization that is meant to keep students safe to be willing not only to admit its flaws, but to reassure students that it is going out of its way to make members of the PC community feel safe on a majority-white campus.
PC is widely known to be not only one of the most segregated schools in the U.S. (according to the Princeton Review) but also to be a predominantly white institution. The issues it sees regarding the question of race are not only inherent in the student body, but translate to the faculty and staff as well.
Over the course of this past summer, an anonymous account by the name of @BlackAtPC has been publishing the stories of current and previous BIPOC PC students, as well as faculty and staff. This account has shed light on the various ways in which PC and its student groups and departments have contributed to the perpetuation of racism on campus.
The account highlighted a number of specific instances in which the Office of Public Safety discriminated against students because of their race. One such post writes, “I called PC Security and described the man and the situation to the officer when he arrived. He then got frustrated that I didn’t identify his race. ‘Was he Black? Mexican?’ He was white, and when I told him that, he lost all sense of urgency.”
In another post, a student reported that they had called PC Public Safety to request immediate assistance and that the student “spent the longest time…explaining that I am a student at Providence College and it kept being questioned— all because I have a Latinx-identifying last name.”
In speaking of his perceptions of PC Public Safety, Princely Tamfu ’21 said, “Far too many times, students of color face consequences for things that their white counterparts do and face no consequences for.”
Both posts from @BlackAtPC reflect this same sentiment—that PC Public Safety officers have made assumptions about who resembles a “PC student” and have acted on their prejudices in at least on a handful of instances. The results have been emotional harm to BIPOC students and the perpetuation of racial stereotypes on campus.
The author of the @BlackAtPC account reiterated this idea and said, “Given that a significant majority of the stories we received involve PC Security in some way or another, it is evident that this office has been and is one of the most significant and harmful perpetuators of racism on campus.”
The PC Office of Public Safety must issue a statement in regards to the concerns of BIPOC students, and it must take on initiatives to increase its understanding of race-related problems. On this matter, Tamfu said, “I feel safest with PC Security when I see officers that look like me and are more willing to talk and understand my side because they know the struggles we endure, than with other officers.”
This office must diversify its force of officers in order to gain more non-white perspectives and to increase the sense of safety among students of color. This is especially necessary given the fact that the majority of the officer force (70%) in 2019 was white. As Tamfu said, “There is no reason that students of color can go through all four years of education at this institution and never be taught by a professor who looks like them.” The same concept must be applied to the officers on campus, as well as every other department.
On a similar note, the owner of the @BlackAtPC account also reported that in order to go about change, “We need to hear from them that they are understanding the concerns and stories being raised through this account and what specific, concrete action steps they will take to ensure that they treat BIPOC students with the same respect, empathy, and support that they offer to white students.”
When asked what specifically the Office is doing in response to ongoing events, Chief of PC Public Safety Koren Kanadanian said, “As Chief, I strive daily to have the officers provide safety and security to the entire PC community with equity and fairness for all. The services provided by the Office of Public Safety are accessible to all who need them.” The officers on his force recieve an annual 8-12 hours of diversity training, in addition to off-campus workshops.
He explained that anyone who feels discriminated against in any way can report such instances to the Office of Public Safety, and that complaints against officers are thoroughly investigated.
The College has the opportunity with the start of this new semester to truly make a difference concerning the manner in which race is discussed and perceived on campus.
While it does not have the power to change minds completely, it can at the very least guide people toward greater understanding of race-related issues and perspectives.
Each individual department on campus— academic or otherwise—must take part in bringing about this change. The responsibility does not fall to PC Security alone. But as the primary department meant to protect students, Security has a special responsibility to take action, and they have been noticeably silent.
There can be no inaction, no shortcuts, no false promises this year. This is the year PC takes action to create real, legitimate change on campus. For PC Public Safety specifically, the time is now.