Anti-racial profiling policy will alter security alerts

By Emma Gallegos

Macalester’s recent policy change regarding the use of racial descriptors in security alerts has already gone into effect. However, many involved in the process of enacting this policy change are displeased that the administration has not to made a formal announcement regarding the change.

The college began to reassess its use of race in security alerts last spring. After an increase in the number of violent attacks that semester, Keon West ’06 brought together a group of students, faculty and staff who were concerned that they saw a trend of racial profiling in these alerts.

In the Dec. 14 edition of The Mac Weekly, West said that in the series of alerts during the spring of ’06 there was a tendency to use race alone to describe “black” or “African-American” suspects. When the suspect was allegedly white, however, race was omitted but more specific physical descriptors such as hair color were included.

The group met with Dean of Students of Vice President of Student Affairs Laurie Hamre and Safety and Security Officer Terry Gorman to reassess the policy. West then drafted a statement to be released as a Bulletin Flash to the college community. The statement said that omitting race from security alerts would end up “better serving the victim and community” and “protecting innocent people of color.”

Last December, Hamre said that the college was working on the way that the security office used race in security alerts and wanted to minimize its use but neither she nor Gorman had totally ruled out its use.

“We knew we’d change things from the beginning but we weren’t sure if we could meet [the group’s] concerns,” Hamre said.

She said that the college was finally able to eliminate racial descriptors from reports when they determined that new policy would make criminal descriptions more accurate.

Hamre said that educating the community and making sure that those who respond to crimes ask for physical descriptors beyond race are key to ensuring that this new policy is effective.

Since December, the safety and security office has released several alerts and warnings. One Bulletin Flash released on Jan. 19 described a theft that occurred on campus but the others came from Hamline, the University of St. Thomas and the St. Paul Police.

In the on-campus theft, race was not a descriptor but skin color, height and build were.

Niki Littell ’09, who was a part of the original group that met last spring, said that she found the description “really satisfactory.”
“It was a better physical description than I expected,” Littell said.

However, the security alerts from the off-campus incidents used race in addition to a several other descriptors, such as age, height and hair color.

Gorman said that it is difficult to remove race from off-campus alerts, especially since Macalester is the first Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities (ACTC) school that does not use race as a physical descriptor.

He said that the other schools are reassessing their policies, although they have not yet made changes.

Hamre said she hopes that other colleges and even the city’s police will follow Macalester’s example.

Those who participated in the group last spring praise the college’s official decision to not use race.

“I did expect it eventually. I did not expect it to happen so soon,” West said. “This is a huge step for the college and sets a good example for other, surrounding colleges like Hamline.”
Littell agreed, and said that she was initially skeptical but when she saw the security alert released over J-term she thought it was a great step for the administration.

However, the group’s members said that they still want the administration to release the Bulletin Flash that West drafted last April, which would declare and explain why race would not be used as a descriptor in security alerts.

History professor Peter Rachleff, who was also a member of the group, said that this was a “teachable moment” and he was not pleased that no statement has been released.
Hamre said the events of the “politically incorrect” party and the campus-wide forum that took place in the Weyerhaeuser Chapel Tuesday night have “opened the door for us to talk about [racial profiling] in a different way.”

“We can’t rest on our laurels or a printed mission statement,” Hamre said. “Everything we do is reflective and should fit who we say we are.”

The forum planners said that they plan to continue the dialogue that began on Tuesday in smaller groups, and Hamre said that these smaller groups would be the perfect avenue for educating people about the new policy for security alerts.
Littell, however, disagrees with Hamre’s approach. She said that while the events of the “politically incorrect” party and the new policy are related, the policy needs separate treatment before it can be integrated into these broad campus-wide dialogues.

West said he worries that “reluctance to release a statement may be translated into reluctance to go through with the action promised by said statement”

But, he added, “So long as Macalester stops using race as a descriptor, I’ll be happy.”