The University of Minnesota will no longer automatically include racial information in campus crime alerts. Instead, it will be included only “when there is sufficient detail that would help identify a specific individual or group.”
The group Whose Diversity staged a sit-in at the office of school President Eric Kaler, who says that he was “moved by the personal experiences” they shared, and therefore decided to change policy. He said that including race in descriptions of criminals “may unintentionally reinforce stereotypes of black men and other people of color as criminals and threats.”
Pamela Wheelock, the vice president of the school, said “We need to have enough information about a suspect so that somebody can reliably use that information to keep themselves safe. Unless we have a sufficiency of information, we’re not actually going to use any suspect information.” She says that black men, more than other groups, “have shared that suspects’ descriptions negatively impact their sense of safety.”
However, as noted by Fox News, there has been no statement on exactly how much information authorities would need to have for a visual description to be pertinent. Wheelock and the campus police chief will decide on a case-by-case basis which alerts should include a description of the suspect, and she admits that “there’s no recipe.” Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the university, said that this policy is similar to the judgment calls that media outlets must make about to publicizing a suspect’s description.
Josh Verges of Pioneer Press reports than in a review of 51 email crime alerts, 15 cases have been judged not to meet the criteria of the new policy. These alerts, which are mandated by the Clery Act, require all students, staff, and faculty to be notified of serious or continuing threats on or near campus. Alerts can include information about both the suspect and the victim, like gender, race, composite drawings of the suspect, and whether or not there might be a bias motive to the crime.
Clemon Dabney, a graduate student in the University of Minnesota system, says that crime alerts including racial descriptors create an environment where black men are treated with suspicion or even harassed. Incidents have happened elsewhere, like at Yale, where a black student was detained at gunpoint by police who were looking for a tall, young, adult African-American male when he was not the one that committed the crime.
Whose Diversity said that the new policy was not enough to affect real change. Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed quotes the group:
“Why does the administration think removing racial descriptors from only a third of crime alerts is sufficient, when racialized crime alerts feed a system that literally kills black people daily in this country? This is to say nothing of how constant threats to the safety of black students impact their studies, mental health, and ability to graduate– racialized crime alerts have consequences far more pervasive and consequential than mere ‘feelings’ in the lives of students of color. Racialized crime alerts put the psychological, academic, and physical survival of students of color on the line. It must be asked: How committed is the administration to truly ensuring that Black lives matter on this campus? On what side of history does the university administration want to be?