We are all for an independent investigation into Campus Safety and its practices. However, this opportunity must not be wasted. If real changes are to happen, the investigation must be scrutinous and far-reaching.
Last week, a faculty proposal was approved to look into the training and hiring practices of Campus Safety in response to the numerous concerns raised amongst students and faculty. These concerns have arisen in response to both complaints about the treatment of students of color by Campus Safety officers and the lack of diversity in hiring of new officers. We feel that these concerns need to be addressed and that an independent investigation is a wonderful start to seeing some real change on campus.
We are also aware, however, that the opportunity of investigating the school’s Campus Safety policies does not come around often. Our fear is that the school administration will point to this investigation and its recommendations as sufficient improvement for years to come. Investigations are both difficult and expensive, so if the school is willing to go through one, we want to see it done right.
On par with concerns of racial discrimination by Campus Safety officers is the issue of their treatment of sexual assault survivors. We believe the current training for officers is insufficient, as demonstrated by the numerous stories of survivors that have surfaced at demonstrations and open forums stemming from last year’s walk-out. In the same vein of worries about the hiring practices for Campus Safety officers with regards to race are concerns about the lack of hiring of women and gender non-conforming officers.
As mentioned in the faculty proposal, one of the other fears about the hiring pool for Campus Safety officers is that they largely come from the Hill Correctional Facility and Galesburg Police Department. Campus Safety officers perform a unique role on campus that is far removed from the roles of correctional or police officers. This fundamental difference mandates a different mindset in order to properly take care of students. These officers need to take reports of sexual assault and racial discrimination and then direct students to other resources on campus. This cannot be done without proper training, or rather, cannot be done by relying on experience from outside institutions.
While conversations of race have rightly dominated the recent political landscape of Knox, it must not be forgotten that the Office of Civil Rights is still investigating the school for mishandling of sexual assault cases. These cases invariably become rooted in Campus Safety and their ability to properly take reports from and address the needs of survivors. This campus deserves officers that are representative of the student body and appropriately trained for the various situations that arise on a residential campus.
The faculty discussed the importance of holding Campus Safety accountable in the same way professors and department heads are subjected to reviews. Much like the recent anger directed at America’s police force, complaints against campus safety on racial and sexist grounds must be prioritized because they represent authority on this campus. Campus culture as a whole cannot improve if the people governing its actions are not being held to high standards.
The opportunity to have an independent investigation of the main power structure on campus should not be missed. We fully support the emphasis of the faculty proposal and only ask that concerns of gender and gender violence be added to the umbrella of investigation. Knox has to honestly reflect if it truly wishes to improve.