Oneonta Holds Open Forum for Racial Profiling Policy on Campus

Cady Sharp Kuzmich, Editor in Chief

SUNY Oneonta students continue to question how far their campus has progressed since the September day twenty years ago when the university handed over a list of all the black males on campus to police officials. This breach of trust has taken decades to mend. The annual discussion about the blacklist has the potential to act as a catalyst for tangible change.

Still, the blacklist echoes today in the minds of students who continue to be harassed in our community.

Last spring students and faculty members gathered in the quad to make it clear they don’t feel safe or accepted on the SUNY Oneonta campus. Many of these same students worked towards revising the campus racial profiling policy.

University and police officials must continue to work towards creating an environment where all community members feel safe, not just the straight, white members.

SUNY Oneonta President Nancy Klenewski and University Police Department Chief Dan Chambers have made it clear they are willing to work with students toward achieving that goal. “Racial profiling is an illegal form of discrimination. It has no place on our campus,” said Klenewski.

President Klenewski and Chief Chambers, along with Vice President of Student Development Steven Perry, Chief Diversity Officer Terrence Mitchell and the Commissioner of University Police Bruce McBride, met with students and faculty at an open-forum to discuss recent revisions to the campus racial profiling policy. The forum was held at 4 p.m. in the Craven Lounge of Morris Hall on the SUNY Oneonta campus last Thursday, September 18.

McBride, who coordinates university police departments for 25 state operations, said that an external review showed that SUNY Oneonta UPD is an accredited agency, which simply means it meets police standards. McBride said that Oneonta is one of only eight accredited university police departments in the SUNY system. McBride said no biased behavior was evident in the most recent external review conducted in May.

McBride acknowledged there is a problem with data collection when it comes to police stops. “You don’t see data. You need data,” said McBride. The commissioner also commented on the complaint process which he reviewed, saying “If someone makes a complaint, [they] ought to find out what happened.”

McBride also recognized the need to diversify the police department, “especially above the Tappan Zee Bridge,” in order to secure fair treatment of minorities.  McBride described, in detail, the application process for prospective officers. Candidates must take a written exam, pass an athletic exam, a background check, drug tests and an oral interview. McBride said that through much of this process, the applicant’s race is unknown. A man in the crowd asked “if the process is fair, why then do we lack diversity?” McBride responded, “It’s not a problem downstate. It’s an upstate thing.” The commissioner proposed a two-year “super-internship” for college students interested in becoming police officers as a way to help them get through the lengthy application process.

Zana McKay inquired about the percentage of minority students who have been stopped by police. “Somebody knows what percent of stops are on people of color. When we don’t share info, it looks like we have something to hide,” said McKay. President Klenewski responded to McKay, saying the university does not have that information since many students choose not to disclose that information on application forms. “This goes back to The Blacklist,” she said. The idea “somebody’s got a list… We do not. Many people leave that box blank or mark unknown.” This opened up another debate about how police officers could possibly identify race when there are so many races and combinations.

SUNY Oneonta student Christy Harasimowicz says she feels the revised racial profiling policy falls short of the community’s expectations. “I appreciate the effort of the administration in presenting this revised document and attempting to make a connection with concerned students and staff.  However, the terminology in the document is vague and unclear and people who attended the forum had opposed the panel’s insistence of its sufficiency. It needs clear definitions and explanations.”

Harasimowicz continued, “What also needs to be addressed is the amount of community involvement in creating legislature and policies. What was put together in the spring was presented to them by a community of students, and what they have taken out of the document is the community itself, adding committees which will have the ability to retrospectively advise the police department but not be proactive in making change together with the department in the present.”

“The process seems more open, but it still feels like we’re talking past each other about the definition of racial profiling,” said one man in the crowd.

Professor Francis asked the commissioner to make the policy more clear, even if that means being repetitive. “It’s not enough for me,” she said, referring to the existing policy.

“I am a member of this campus community. I love SUNY Oneonta. I want to feel safe.” She added, “I want to know the police may not use racial, ethnic or other bias stereotypes as factors in selecting whom to stop and search or as the basis of reasonable suspicion or probable cause.”

Chief Diversity Officer Terrence Mitchell said he and the other university officials are in the process of scheduling a second forum in the coming weeks.

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