Restoring campus trust: Working toward a better student-CSS relationship

Editorial Board

Recent campus events and activism have highlighted a history of fraught relations between Campus Safety and Security (CSS) and minoritized students, particularly Black and Brown students, at the College. Students have recounted experiences of bias and racism with CSS officers, while CSS officers report an erosion of trust with students. These issues have numerous facets; no one solution will eliminate bias and build a strong community. We believe, however, that a series of concerted initiatives, many of which students, faculty and staff have already suggested or implemented, will help to strengthen the sense of trust between CSS and students, bolster the safety of minoritized students on campus and promote a healthier campus culture. 

We support two immediate recommendations regarding CSS that students have previously called for: anti-bias training amongst CSS personnel and an external review of CSS. The first has already been, and continues to be, implemented. The second, an external review, is currently common practice for the College’s academic units and other offices on campus – for example, we and our peer institutions often consult on how to improve health services, admissions and financial aid, amongst other things. Hence, such a review would be a sensible measure for CSS. 

Increased training and professional development around mental health crises is another welcome recommendation. CSS, in the absence of other professional residential life resources, bears a large responsibility to respond to all sorts of crises after business hours – a labor-intensive task in which they often go above and beyond what is expected of them. Equipping officers not only with the appropriate skills, but also pursuing top-level professional development in these competencies, is necessary.

Many negative student experiences with CSS stem from the anonymous tip line – reports from fellow students to CSS about disruptive or dangerous residential life behavior. This practice essentially forces CSS to respond to and enact the biases of the students who call. This problem is not one with CSS, but one with students who cannot overcome their own biases and fears to speak with their neighbors. There must be a cultural shift away from relying on CSS to handle complaints of noise or smoking, for example, and instead towards expecting students to approach their neighbors and resolve these issues. Part of this cultural shift will rely on housing coordinators (HC) and junior advisors (JA) clearly establishing this expectation as a part of their residential culture and emphasizing conflict-resolution skills development in HC and JA training. 

The final step in this process must be a restorative method of building community, accountability and trust. This must first involve giving weight to the experiences of those who have felt harmed, unwelcome and unsafe, so long as those community members feel comfortable sharing their experiences. Next, we ask for the establishment of a standing advisory and oversight committee that includes membership from campus and local constituencies. Students, faculty, staff and local community members all have a vested interest in safety, equity and fairness on this campus, and they should be included on such a body. This committee should have the ability to review CSS records and practices, to field complaints and to make recommendations to the leadership of CSS on these policies and complaints. This work of accountability helps to keep the community safer, as it strengthens trust between CSS and the campus community. All members of our community have a right to feel safe here, and it is time to engage in restorative and forward-looking processes to ensure that can be the case.