by Madeleine Chan, Opinions Editor
CW: Discussion of sexual assault, police brutality, death.
Over the years, there have been increasing concerns about the response of SFU Safety & Risk Services (SRS) to campus incidents. Most recently, the RCMP were called on a Black alumnus, resulting in them being pepper sprayed, tazed in the head, and arrested. However, if SRS’ “number one priority is always the safety of [the] SFU community,” then why are they putting students at risk? SFU’s system of student “security” is flawed and needs to be changed to better protect and prevent potential student harm.
I have had the extreme privilege to not have dealt with SFU’s security in a negative manner, but during my years at SFU I have seen many other people be affected by them in this way. Numerous sexual assault cases left mishandled or dismissed, a questionable handling of a student death, lack of support after a violent incident, and failure to adequately notify students of a possible shooter, are just a few events that come to mind. SFU’s security was also complicit in an unjustified call to remove the same alumnus in question from an SFSS debate in 2019. These past situations only exemplify the faultiness of SRS’ current operation.
First, SFU’s current COVID-19 restrictions make it so only “community members” are allowed on campus. Though, who’s to say that an alumnus isn’t a member of the SFU community? The guidelines are vague at best and don’t give security adequate guidelines for how to regulate visitors’ presence on campus. Even if the alumnus wasn’t allowed on campus, they should have been met with empathy and understanding, not a call to the RCMP. Especially when these calls can be a death sentence for Black people.
According to a statement released by SRS, “Campus Public Safety [CPS] officers always take a peaceful approach to resolve situations.” Yes, CPS may not taze or shoot students, but calling the police on a Black person leads to a high probability of them facing violence. SRS not only needs to reevaluate their relationship with the RCMP, but they need to consider how their actions could harm students in a larger socio-political context. According to the SFSS’ statement, the Director of Campus Public safety was literally educated on this the day before the arrest.
In addition, while no one will be able to truly tell if the call was racially motivated, there is enough historical and social evidence to support the very real and often overlooked possibility. If we want to pull systemic racism from its long roots we need to critically look at how race plays a part in everyday life. We can’t assume situations with such extensive history and bias are truly ever “neutral.”
The SRS’ statement also claims that police are only called when “the situation has escalated outside of the role and capacity of [CPS] officers.” If CPS officers are not properly trained to deal with (what appeared to be) a distressed alumnus who was not putting anyone in immediate bodily harm, then they are not trained well enough.
Even if the people behind SFU’s Safety & Risk Services actually have a deep desire to keep students safe, it is clear that they are not, and that students don’t feel the sentiment. Female, LGBTQ2+, and students of colour have expressed their concern online in the past regarding these unsafe incidents. This concern was only heightened from the arrest, as is apparent from the slew of social media comments I’ve seen from students expressing worry about their own safety. It might be thought that this was an isolated incident from only a “few” CPS officers, but the training that they received to act on “threats” was created by the department themselves. Not a day before the arrest, security approached the same alumnus to leave Harbour Centre for no discernable reason.
Regarding potential threats to students, there is obviously only so much that CPS officers can do. They aren’t omnipresent and can’t react and foresee potential harm to all students, but in many cases they have been the harm. Calling the police — on a Black person no less — for a situation that could have been de-escalated, failing to support students in the aftermath of sexual assaults, and not notifying students of a potential shooter, literally put students in harm’s way.
The idea that SFU’s security is flawed isn’t new, either. Black students have had to scream over the words of people that antagonize them for this to be heard. Countless efforts from Black, Indigenous, and other students of colour have gone into making sure that SFU is a safe space for all. People of colour have to carry the weight of a country built to make them suffer and have to push back to make sure that incidents like this don’t keep happening. And when students just want to feel safe at a school that is supposed to serve them but have been suffering the effects of an institution that doesn’t prioritize their well-being, something has to change.
As the SFSS also demands, there needs to be comprehensive education on “de-escalation tactics, anti-racism, and bias awareness” for CPS officers. It’s apparent that any “verbal de-escalation” and “equity, diversity, and inclusion education” they may have had isn’t enough. COVID-19 campus regulations also need to be clarified so that confusion around who can be on campus doesn’t lead to incidents like this. SFU’s safety services simply need to take a larger look at how they “protect” students and community members.
Students may not be frequenting campus anytime soon, but SFU’s security should improve so that when they do touch SFU soil they feel safe. No matter your opinion on the arrest, there is no denying that students are scared for their safety on campus. Something has to change, not just for the safety of SFU’s marginalized students, but for everyone who could be at risk from Safety & Risk Services’ lackluster efforts, because it’s clear that students really aren’t the “number one priority.”