Responding to the presence of police on IWU campus

Samira Kassem

All Illinois Wesleyan students received an email this past Wednesday from the Office of Student Affairs regarding a partnership between the University and the Bloomington Police Department.

The email stated police presence on campus will increase beginning this semester to “support campus safety activities related to underage drinking and other drug use.”

Since I first became a student of Illinois Wesleyan nearly two and a half years ago, the school has boasted its “commitment to diversity.”

Yet this is a glaring example of the university’s misunderstanding of what it means to provide a safe campus community for students of color.

The email closes with the claim “In our experiences with similar efforts, students reported that they feel safer on campus and Bloomington Police indicated that their working understanding of our campus, buildings and grounds was enhanced, improving their response time when incidents occur.

We hope you will welcome officers to campus as you see them.”

Interestingly enough, the email doesn’t tell which students were interviewed and does not cite any poll statistics from actual Illinois Wesleyan students.

The Pacific Standard has published research saying, “Young black men are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than young white men. They are more likely to face ongoing everyday slights and indignities at the hands of police.

The underlying causes run deep: Black people often see police as the face of larger systems of inequality in the justice system, employment, education and housing.”

People of color face more of a threat from the police, and an increased police presence does not always decrease crime.

USA Today reports “the raw numbers of police have declined over the past five years, and the rate of police officers per 1000 residents has been dropping for two decades. At the same time, the violent crime rate has also dropped.”

A 2016 American Civil Liberties Union report found “Not only are black, Latino and low-income students punished at much higher rates than their whiter and wealthier peers, but they’re also more likely to be arrested…

School policing is ‘still very disproportionately harming students of color, students with learning disabilities and students who identify as LGBTQ.”

But an article from WGLT brings the issue much closer to home.

A 2017 study on the Bloomington-Normal police “found that police traffic stops in Normal far outpace the number of stops in larger central Illinois cities, but that many citizens feel Bloomington police are more aggressive in dealing with minorities […] 

The study found that African Americans are disproportionately more likely to be frisked and have their cars searched during police stops. Blacks are arrested more frequently, and blacks and Hispanics spend more time in the county jail than whites.”

Currently, 69 percent of Illinois Wesleyan students are white, so it is no surprise that a survey of the student body (which the email is not even clear if one ever took place) would make students feel safer on campus with increased police presence.

Students of color at Illinois Wesleyan already feel singled out and unsupported by the campus community due to the above-average disparities in the number of white students versus minority students.

An increased police presence will just cause minority students to feel more unsafe.

According to Niche’s report on Illinois Wesleyan, 88 percent of students reported currently feeling completely safe on campus, meaning the need for increased police presence is being completely fabricated by the administration.

Senior John Barrett is a member of the national organization of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. He reiterates, “Higher police presence in any area does not result in lower crime rates. In political science and my work with Students for Sensible Drug Policy, more cops and more strict enforcement of criminal law is actually quite harmful.”

Ultimately this is just another disappointing (but not surprising) policy the Illinois Wesleyan administration has enacted, proving their concern for creating a welcoming campus for students of color is purely talk.