Police Calls On Campus Highlight Racial Bias, Safety Tensions

Sep 17, 2018

A black employee walking to his office at UMass Amherst last Friday had campus police called on him. The incident is similar to one that took place over the summer at Smith College involving a student -- who was also black -- on her lunch break. 

Reporter Dusty Christensen has covered both these stories for The Daily Hampshire Gazette. He said the UMass incident involved an employee who's worked at the school for 14 years.

Dusty Christensen, Daily Hampshire Gazette: His name is Reg Andrade. And he was walking, as he always does, back from the recreation center, through the center of campus, to his job at Whitmore Administration Building, when -- as he has sort of pieced together -- somebody made a phone call to the anonymous tip line at the university's police department saying that they saw a "very agitated" African-American man carrying a "large duffel bag" into the Whitmore building.

Soon enough, plainclothes officers showed up at the building. They shut the building down to any new visitors.

And when Andrade returned from a bathroom break, he said those officers were there to question him about everything from what he did the night before, to whether he was really agitated coming into the building.

He says that it's a very clear example of racial profiling, and says it's the third time he's been racially profiled on campus since being a student at the university a number of years ago.

Adam Frenier, NEPR: What's the response been from the UMass administration, as well as law enforcement, on campus?

The UMass administration sent out an email to the campus community last night. Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy sent out an email saying that the voicemail left on the anonymous tip line raised immediate public safety concerns, and that he hopes the anonymous tip that precipitated the incident was well-motivated to protect public safety.

However, he also acknowledged that racial profiling, whether intentional or not, occurs on campus, and can corrode efforts to make campus a welcoming environment for everybody.

I was unable to speak to UMass Police Chief Tyrone Parham, but in an interview with The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, he said that the behavior in the call to the anonymous tip line was what caused them to react. He said: "One of the things we zoned in on was that message, because we listened to it a couple of times, was really the behavior," he told the Collegian.

So it's not necessarily a description of the person, he said, it was really the behaviors that were exhibited, as to the reasons that we thought we needed to confirm this.

This incident at UMass follows a similar one at Smith College over the summer, where a black student there had police called on her while she was taking her lunch break from a job on campus. Is it surprising that these things happened so close together? Or is it just one of these sorts of incidents that happen all the time, and there's just more awareness now?

As somebody who does not experience racial profiling as a white male, I'm not necessarily in the best place to speak to that.

I can say that Reg, the employee at UMass, certainly made the comparison to the incident at Smith College himself.

He said that actually their office was scheduled to have a training earlier this year, about a month ago, at Smith College's campus, and he felt uncomfortable being at Smith because of what happened to the student there.

And he actually asked for that training to be switched to the UMass campus -- which it was.

And one Smith employee you heard from says all of this is an overreaction, as far as what happened at Smith. She said workers have a protocol to follow when they encounter someone they don't recognize, which involves calling campus police. So how do college administrators balance public safety with making sure racial profiling isn't taking place?

Well, that was certainly something that Chancellor Subbaswamy took into account in his email to the campus community.

He said, "We're living at an intersection of two very trying issues. We must do our part to respond quickly to received threats of potential violence on campus. And we must build an inclusive community that respects everybody and rejects profiling."

So obviously, administrators are sort of dealing with those two issues.