A Work in Progress: Students Are Included in the Bates Campus Safety Summer Working Group

This summer, a committee composed of both staff members and students met regularly to discuss the implementation of changes to the policies and procedures of Bates College Campus Safety. Coined the Campus Safety Summer Working Group, the committee was led by Bates College Student Government (BCSG) Co-Presidents Kush Sharma and Marcos Pacheco Soto, former Senior Associate Dean of Students Carl Steidel and Paul Menice, the Director of Security and Campus Safety.  

“The purpose of the working group will be to review new policies and procedures that the college will be developing and to provide feedback and suggestions,” wrote Pacheco Soto in an email to students regarding applications. 

The Major Tasks and Accomplishments of the Working Group

Much accredited to the strict public health protocols during the 2020-2021 academic year, tensions arose between students and the Campus Safety officers that were charged with enforcing them. Upperclassmen at Bates remember well the events of Mar. 5, when a student was restrained by a Campus Safety officer, as well as the ensuing investigation of students’ experiences with Campus Safety.

“There were some specific things that needed to be addressed now,” Pacheco Soto replied when asked about the purpose of the committee. “If we think about reconstructing Campus Safety at the College, that’s going to take years. We definitely are wanting to make these large changes, but there [are] some urgent things that need to be addressed at this specific moment.”  

Their first task — and “the most urgent” — was to separate Campus Safety from the Residence Life experience. This decision stemmed from the results of the investigation, which posed the presence of Campus Safety in residential buildings as the cause for the most tension between students and personnel. 

Pacheco Soto explained that the Working Group played a part in the hiring of the new live-in Residence Life positions. “The hiring of Residence Life staff was key … because they are the ones who are ‘enforcing the rules,’ but under a different approach now: making sure people are fine,” Pacheco Soto told The Student

The second focus of the Working Group was to begin conversations about revising policies and advising staff on smaller changes, including Campus Safety officer uniforms as well as the use of batons, pepper spray and hand-cuffs. 

The Selection Process of the Working Group Members

Both of the BCSG Co-Presidents, as well as Steidel and Menice, took part in the Committee Selection Board and invited students to apply in late May. Students who expressed interest were asked to write a cover-letter-style statement of interest. 

“We were looking to embrace the rest of the student body and see that the participants came from different groups and clubs on campus. We also wanted to see that they were interested in the work,” Pacheco Soto explained. 

There was a wide variety of applicants. Some of them had experience with restorative justice work and had already been a part of the College’s Restorative Justice Fellows, a group of students selected to help build restorative justice practices at Bates. Others were a part of the Campus Safety Advisory Committee or were simply passionate about improving the relationship between students and Campus Safety. 

Of the twelve students who applied, only four were selected to be a part of the Working Group.

The four students were in addition to another nine students who were already a part of other existing committees at Bates, including the Campus Safety Advisory Council, the Student Affairs Committee, Peer Health Educators, the Equity and Inclusion Peer Advisors, Bates EMS, and some Residence Life team members. 

Bates College Student Government (BCSG) Co-Presidents Kush Sharma and Marcos Pacheco Soto co-led the Campus Safety Summer Working Group. (Gianluca Yornet de Rosas/The Bates Student)

Pacheco Soto emphasized that all of those who participated were decidedly dedicated to the goals of the Working Group, as the position was volunteer-based and took place during the summer. 

A Space for Student Input

The early emphasis on including students as both participants and leaders of the Working Group was meant to provide a space for students to share their own opinions, beliefs and experiences. 

Most of the meeting agendas were written by Steidel and Menice, as they had been previously working on Campus Safety policies and already had some changes in mind. 

“We did discuss if we took real advantage of the space [for students] or not, but there was the possibility for us to propose ideas,” Pacheco Soto commented. 

According to Pacheco Soto, most of what was discussed was brought up by staff members, although student input was heavily encouraged. 

“We Are Not Done Yet!” — The Working Group Continues

Currently, there are plans for the Working Group to continue meeting this semester, but due to Steidel’s recent resignation on Aug. 27, the logistics have yet to be finalized. Pacheco Soto has plans to meet with Menice to discuss how the Working Group will proceed, but he “assures [that] the work will continue.” 

The next steps of the Working Group surround new hires to the Campus Safety personnel, which Sharma and Pacheco Soto have been asked to take part in. “Ideally, we will be sharing that opportunity with the working group members. It is also important that we aren’t the only ones who are engaged with the work,” Pacheco Soto said. 

The changes made to Campus Safety by the Working Group this summer are only the beginning. Pacheco Soto disclosed that the participants really want to push for more, but it will take time. 

In a message to the Bates community, Pacheco Soto explained, “We understand that this process is really complex and it will take time and effort. We are not done yet, but do keep pushing us. We do better when students are pushing us.”