Police departments have always been institutions that represent violence and oppression toward marginalized communities. The only folks who feel comfortable in the presence of police are those who have the privilege of not being profiled and threatened by them for the color of their skin. We have seen time and time again the destruction of race-class subjugated communities that comes from over-policing and police violence. So why does the University of Oregon insist on such an oppressive institution on their campus?
That is a question student groups have asked since UO established its campus police force in 2012. A university is a place where all students are supposed to feel safe and liberated to pursue an education. Students should feel comfortable on their campus, especially students of color, but that has become nearly impossible with the presence of UOPD.
Lolade Siyonbola, a Yale graduate student, spoke about her experience with the American Civil Liberties Union about her experience with campus police and racial profiling. Siyonbola, a Black woman, was napping in the common room of her dorm building when she was woken by police who were responding to a call from a White woman that was obviously racially driven.
After this experience, Siyonbola said, “We’re constantly having to prove that we’re allowed to be where we are, that we have permission ─ that we have freedom papers.”
Is this an environment the UO wants to create for their students of color? Aren’t we supposed to be striving for an inclusive and diverse campus? It seems that the UO is all talk and no action when it comes to defunding and disarming UOPD.
Student groups have not given up the fight with UO on disarming, disbanding and defunding UOPD. In an early October demonstration, students chained themselves to Johnson Hall with very specific demands. One of those demands was disarming UOPD. Activists saw disarming UOPD as a good first step to disband the institution and democratize the board of trustees. It seemed hopeful when students were able to get university President Michael Schill’s attention and voice their demands, but his response to their demands was a pathetic excuse for “reform.”
In a letter to campus last week from Schill’s office, he explained that unarmed community service officers will patrol campus and respond to calls for non-emergencies. However, he also wrote, “I want to be upfront about one thing: The university will neither disband the UOPD nor completely shift to an unarmed security force.”
Excuse me, Schill, but how does this create a more inclusive and inviting campus? Having a few unarmed officers patrol campus doesn’t do anything about the broader issue of police on campus. Students want complete disarmament, then steps toward defunding and disbanding UOPD. However, Schill has shown that he isn’t willing to budge.
I find it funny that a White man is making decisions about policing when he will never be stopped by an officer based on the color of his skin. We want to be rid of the presence of police in any form on our campus. We want students, especially students of color, to feel as comfortable as possible at UO.
Disarming a few officers does nothing to lessen the threat of police violence. We’ve seen what implicit and explicit racial bias has done to Black and Brown folks in the country. And we know there are alternatives that UO can put in place to keep campus safe. Alternatives like having trained mediators available to de-escalate situations without someone feeling like their life is being threatened.
Schill does a great job at making students’ demands seem like they are unattainable and ridiculous. At the end of the day we both claim to want the same thing, a comfortable environment where all the student body feels safe. However, we’re the ones that have to walk the campus, not him. It’s evident that Schill lacks empathy and compassion towards students who are fighting to make this campus inclusive while he sits and continues to write letters that mean nothing. If we have to keep chaining ourselves to Johnson Hall until our demands are taken seriously and our voices are actually heard, we will. Don’t underestimate the power of student activism.