The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Staff Ed: When students feel unsafe and targeted, UMW Campus Police needs to offer more than detached sympathy

3 min read

UMW Campus Police needs to be more proactive in making the student population feel safe. It is not enough for UMW PD to just state their intent to do so. 

Last week two alerts were sent out by Anna Billingsley regarding two separate incidents where students were harassed on campus. One student was verbally harassed with racial slurs while a pair of students were approached by an indecently exposed man. 

This is not the first time this semester that students have felt threatened on campus. On Feb. 25, it was reported that a suspicious man had attempted to enter residential halls and followed several students. On March 2, UMW PD located another group of Patriot Front stickers on campus. Even though UMW PD cannot charge Patriot Front because their actions are protected by the First Amendment, UMW should be able to bar them from campus.

Despite UMW PD’s consistent verbal responses to these incidents, they still happen. Furthermore, with Campus Police’s involvement in controlling Fredericksburg’s Black Lives Matter protest in May of 2020, there has been a call for Campus Police to evaluate their policies and consider whether their actions have put the safety of students first. 

While the ongoing Community Advisory Panel (CAP) report has been a step in the right direction, it has not yet elicited much change. The final report regarding UMW PD’s involvement with the Fredericksburg Black Lives Matter protest was released two weeks ago. The conclusion of the report recommended the creation of a Campus Policing Advisory Council of students, staff and UMW PD officers  to evaluate complaints, effectively communicate with each other and evaluate the current policing systems in place. 

While the conclusion of this report appears hopeful, it is not just enough for UMW PD to hear this recommendation. There needs to be an active move to implement this Advisory Council and the recommendations from the report. There also needs to be an active move to include diverse voices on this council. 

While UMW is made up of a majority of white students, they cannot be the only representatives on this council. A special topics sociology class entitled “Invention of Police: Social Control” recently reported that 40 percent of Black students do not feel safe walking at night time on campus. 56 percent of mixed-race students do not feel comfortable in surrounding neighborhoods, and 24 percent of mixed-race students do not feel safe in campus parking areas. 

In response to many of the incidents that have cropped up on campus that have involved UMW Campus Police, the general response has been one of detached sympathy. What UMW PD needs to understand is that it is not enough for them to state situations like racial harassment and the intimidation of female students should not be happening. The UMW PD acts as if it is a mere bystander when these incidents are the direct result of their failure to protect and serve the UMW community. They need to step up and continue to take accountability for their actions and implement systems that do not retroactively harm diverse student populations. 

The shortcomings of UMW Campus Police are not new. With the rise of the nation’s active discussion of the policing system, it makes sense for some to conclude that students are being needlessly critical of UMW’s PD. However, as a campus there needs to be accountability in every facet of our community in order to create a strong and healthy one. The call to action for Campus Police to step up and build a relationship between themselves and students who do not feel safe contacting the police is a necessary one in order to achieve the community we pride ourselves on.

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