NOTE: An earlier version of this story conflated the actions of the Black Student Unions at two separate universities, the University of Michigan and the University of Minnesota. I apologize for the confusion.
The Black Student Union at the University of Michigan made news last week when it delivered an ultimatum to the administration to meet seven demands (including a requirement that 10% of the campus be represented by black students) or face “physical action,” which sounds like a threat of violence.
This week the spotlight is on another Black Student Union (BSU), this one at the University of Minnesota. The group has petitioned the school to strike any mention of the race of suspects in campus-related crime from crime alerts.
CBS Minnesota notes that a letter containing the demand was sent to the university’s president, Eric Kaler, and was co-signed by members of the African American and African Studies, Black Faculty and Staff Association, Black Graduate and Professional Student Association, Black Men’s Forum, and Huntley House for African American Males. A copy of the letter was also delivered to Pamela Wheelock, the vice president of University Services. From the letter:
[We] unanimously agree that campus safety should be of the UMPD’s utmost importance; however, efforts to reduce crime should never be at the expense of our Black men, or any specific group of people likely to be targeted. In addition to causing Black men to feel unsafe and distrusted, racial profiling is proven to inflict negative psychological effects on its victims.
The letter also included some dozen recommendations to UMPD Chief Gregory Hestness on how to improve the campus police response. One of them was to require officers to attend diversity training, and attach a link on crime alerts to the university’s no-tolerance policy on racial profiling.
CBS writes that the campus was placed on lockdown following an attempted robbery on Nov. 11, 2013. University of Minnesota Police wrongfully identified a student as the suspect. Interestingly, the article doesn’t mention whether the race of the student was specified in the alert or whether he was identified as black, which should provide comfort to the BSU. Namely, CBS along with other major news outlets is already on board with the students’ demand. Back in November, right around the time the alleged theft occurred on the Minnesota campus, a group of black teens on skateboards descended on a New York City convenience store. When the owner put up resistance, the marauders beat him so savagely with their skateboards that he required reconstructive surgery. But CBS New York conveniently omitted the race of the perpetrators in its coverage.
As LU’s Colin Flaherty has written, an organization that styles itself the Society of Professional Journalists has as one of its missions the elimination of the race of suspects mentioned in news stories. Avoidance of race mention is already a policy that informs much of the mainstream media. If the University of Minnesota capitulates to the black groups’ demands, they won’t be breaking new ground.
So far, the administration doesn’t appear to be falling in line. Yesterday, Wheelock formally addressed the demands in a letter of her own. She started out in a conciliatory vein:
I am concerned that members of your organizations and others in the University community believe there to be an increase in racial profiling. As I stated earlier profiling will not be tolerated on campus. If there is a concern or complaint about University police practices, both Chief Hestness and I are committed to investigating the matter promptly and thoroughly.
But then she added:
I firmly believe that a well-informed community is an asset to public safety…. I believe that sharing more information in our Crime Alerts, not less, is most beneficial in terms of public safety, especially when that information is available.
The information we share can include a complete description of suspects, unique identifying characteristics such as an accent or a distinctive piece of clothing, or the description of vehicles involved.
We have reviewed what other Big Ten Universities and local colleges and universities include, and our practice of including the race of a suspect when it is available from a victim’s description is consistent with their practices.
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