Katherine Merisotis/The Bates Student
Throughout the past few years, Bates students’ relationship with Campus Security might have been described as tumultuous by some. Interactions between the student body and the security office have ranged from confiscation of alcohol and drugs to allegations of aggression against people of color at the hands of white, male dispatchers. Previous conflicts have resulted in stress between some groups of students and the Safety team.
Conversations surrounding Campus Safety’s role on campus regained attention once @dearpwi, an Instagram account dedicated to exposing racism on predominantly white college campuses, posted an anonymous testimonial on June 16 detailing an incident in 2017 at Bates between a student of color and a white officer.
In this post, the student, who was legally of age to drink at the time, said he was accused of being intoxicated at a party. He was handcuffed on the ground by the security officer outside while he said white students walked by and yelled obscenities at them.
At the time, this incident was well-known among the student body and evoked outrage, particularly since it had occurred at a Bates-sanctioned Women of Color event held in the Benjamin Mays Center in May of 2017. President Clayton Spencer briefly acknowledged the situation in a campus-wide email the following Monday and a student group known as Bates+Who was formed.
Spencer shared the results of an independent investigation in June of 2017, which determined that the actions of the officer did not violate Bates policies but acknowledged “other, pre-existing issues involving race and campus climate” at Bates.
This summer’s Instagram post from @dearpwi gained traction amongst the student body – none of whom were Bates students at the time of the incident – but responses varied; some students felt the safety team’s reaction was justified, while other students disagreed.
On June 15, Spencer released a statement in response to a nation-wide call for racial justice reform and likely in part due to previous testimonials from students of color posted on the @dearpwi Instagram account.
This statement seemed to be the end of Bates’ response to calls for reform at Bates, but at the end of the summer, Interim Director of Campus Security Paul Menice released a statement announcing a name change of the organization from “Campus Security” to “Campus Safety.” The reasoning for the change, according to the email, is to represent, “a transformation in our philosophy in campus safety, aligning the department with the college’s mission statement of ‘educating the whole person’ in the area of community safety.”
The name change was met with mixed responses, with some viewing the name change as the college’s attempt to distance themselves from accusations of racism, and others viewing the change as a surface-level attempt to appease students who protested against instances of police brutality over the summer. Upon students returning to campus in the fall, many students jokingly started correcting themselves when they referred to Campus Safety as Campus Security as if to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the organization.
I met with Menice to discuss the name change as well as the Safety team’s efforts to promote reform and work towards an anti-racist Bates. Menice, a Boston native, has worked for Campus Security for 31 years and assumed the position of interim director this spring after previous director of security Doug Morency left Bates.
Menice informed me that the safety team consists of 11 officers, one access control director, one transportation director, four dispatchers, and several part-time shuttle directors.
Campus Safety was down one member from last school year due to COVID restrictions at the time of our interview in early October. But, they had recently broken the hiring freeze, adding members with very different backgrounds to their payroll.
Menice says hiring criteria depends on experience; the last two people they’ve hired have been chefs but they have “unbelievable backgrounds” in customer service and building relationships with students from working in Commons. Menice said a security background is important when it comes to hiring, but so is the ability to form bonds with members of the Bates community.
“We’re looking for people who show empathy toward students,” Menice said. “It goes toward us shifting our roles and responsibility too, hence the name change from ‘Campus Security’ to ‘Campus Safety.’ I’ve recognized that one of the biggest issues we have on campus is mental health, so one of the questions we’re asking ourselves this year is ‘how can we provide those services to students in need?’”
Demographically, the campus safety team is incredibly homogenous. All of the members of the team are white – except for one officer – and the only two members of the team who are female don’t help with patrolling campus. When I asked Menice how he thinks this lack of diversity might relate to security’s dynamic with the student body, he said that he thinks there is potentially a large effect as the team doesn’t reflect the demographic makeup of the campus.
Menice says that in order to bridge this divide, the team has been undergoing diversity training and working with Dr. Noelle Chaddock, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, to facilitate discussions pertaining to the safety team’s role on campus and how their relationship with students of color needs to improve. “If we have that understanding of what students of color are going through,” Menice said, “we become a better department and we’re able to keep more students safe.”
When I brought up the instance of alleged misconduct at the hands of Bates Safety from May of 2017, the conversation took a more somber note. Menice confirmed that the details of the incident were true, but that he wasn’t on duty that night. He states that the situation wasn’t handled correctly, in his opinion.
“Sometimes I see other officers handle situations and I notice them getting frustrated because the student is getting frustrated, and I almost wish they could start all over again but they can’t. We can only use incidents as teachable moments.”
Menice expressed that he understood why the student body was so upset about it and why it was such a disturbing experience for Black students on campus.
“Even though it happened four or five years ago, there’s still a lot of anger over it, there’s still a lot of frustration from it,” he said. We need to have discussions to move forward from it. There hasn’t been any closure for students involved and affected. We can’t change what happened, but we need to change how we handle stuff like that again.”
Menice’s statements about Campus Safety’s updated role on campus pose the potential for a new sort of involvement with students, but some feel the attention has shifted from the imperative need for the acknowledgment, and accountability, for past mistakes.
“I appreciate his words but I want to see his plans in action,” one sophomore student expressed. “Campus Safety needs to implement real change, and right now, especially with COVID, I haven’t seen their behavior change.”
Other students expressed opposing views. “This is the first year I’ve heard of Campus Safety making the effort to work on their behavior outright,” one junior student remarked. “I feel like that’s an important step. We have to start somewhere.”
Menice clearly has positive, promising plans for the department, but he alone cannot implement change. The work of critically reexamining Campus Safety’s role on campus takes more than promises; it requires the involvement of everyone on Menice’s team.