The tension that has increased between Public Safety and the students of West Chester University has been far from hidden. The differentiation of opinion in regards to the presence of Public Safety varies in the statements such as, “there is more public safety presence for black gatherings” or “there is just enough presence.” Many are frustrated and uneasy to see a gathering of officers at every predominantly black party but will see far less officers at predominantly white parties.
Many argue that most parties held by white students are thrown off campus which contributes to the reason why public safety will not patrol those areas. However, parties that are thrown off campus hosted by black students will be patrolled and shut down. Why is that? Questions such as these have been continuously unanswered which creates tensions. The treatment of predominantly black parties needs to be acknowledged and addressed. Down to our West Chester tradition, the homecoming tailgate, which has happened annually for students, non-students and even alumni, it’s disturbing to hear that public safety says it’s “disturbing the peace.”
Why do the parties that are filled with black students have the most patrols while other parties don’t? We need to have these conversations. Greek life is one of the biggest parts of a college campus. West Chester University is made up of four councils: National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), Multicultural Greek Council (MGC), Panhellenic Council (PHC) and Interfraternity Council (IFC). We all share the common goals of service, succeeding in academics and some type of sisterhood or brotherhood. And yet a simple party hosted by NPHC or MGC can be seen as a threat in the eyes of public safety, unlike how a party hosted by the other councils would be seen. To even get public safety to be there at our events is a struggle, because our events are often seen as a nuisance.
What comes with that is the lack of knowledge that councils such as NPHC and MGC aren’t just known for throwing parties and hosting cookouts. We do numerous volunteering services such as “Adopt a Block,” which takes place the day after the homecoming to help clean up all areas where tailgates have taken place. Others include the Aids Walk, helping students register to vote, packing lunches for the homeless and countless of community services as well as fundraisers to help our community that don’t always get noticed.
The acts of discrimination are not only a problem with Public Safety and police on and off campus, but with nearby businesses as well. Following the shutdown of the WCU vs. Lincoln party, the Wawa on Rhodes Avenue proceeded to close because of “too many kids.” This is something that hasn’t happened before. Never during homecoming, the Eagles win or any other event where there would be a lot of white students in the area. Why did they shut down this time? By too many kids, we truly understand that meant too many black kids. What were they afraid would happen? Why is seeing a group of black kids such a fear for the people we share the community with? Wawa would rather lose customers and money by shutting down than to just stay open with black kids inside. This says a lot about both this Wawa franchise that we consistently support and the West Chester borough itself.
Being part of the minority population at West Chester University, we’ve seen and felt the presence of Public Safety on campus. The duty of our officers is to ensure the safety of us all— students, faculty and visitors alike. Semester after semester, they perform this duty outstandingly. Although, in the eyes of most African American and multicultural students, public safety’s presence can at times feel overwhelmingly excessive.
Students have created and participate in a variety of campus clubs and organizations— many of which hold weekly events to which all, not only students of color, are welcomed to attend. The events are largely educational and provide information to assist students both at West Chester and post-graduation; though sometimes they are parties, gatherings or picnics— aimed to give students a few hours of much-needed fun and relaxation.
These events are incredibly important to the small African American and multicultural population on campus, especially for incoming students of color. It is at these gatherings that we feel a sense of home, friendship and community. These gatherings are the only times during the semester that we are surrounded by people who are like us—both physically and culturally—and unless you are a student of color, the vitality of such an opportunity may be difficult to understand.
It is the increased presence of public safety officers at our events that we find problematic. Even when there is no emergency or need that warrants heavy police activity, it seems that every officer on duty orbits the event simply because there are crowds of black people and loud music. In some instances, they have completely shut down our gatherings, and the majority of the time their unignorable presence creates an environment of such tension that students become uncomfortable and begin to leave. The reality is, when white students throw similar parties (that are often times larger), the police presence is noticeably more scarce—because it’s just a college party, right? Most of our white peers have the majority of their parties a stone-throw off campus, where the likelihood of things becoming riotous, dangerous or out-of-hand is exponentially increased.
Every party that students have recently attended has been on campus. Stops are made at the door to ensure that no illegal or dangerous items make it into the event, yet even with that precaution, we still see five to seven Public Safety officers in the surrounding area watching us. This is a discussion that needs to be had before we the future of the African American and multicultural student body of West Chester is enrolled.
On campus Public Safety is already associated with a lot of negative connotations, such as arrests ticketing and fines, but police brutality across the country has caused a complete change in how some of the community view public safety. Today “people no longer look at the police as protection” but someone they should be protected from.
Considering the toxic behavior displayed by the police force, it would be a good idea for West Chester University’s Public Safety to host a town hall meeting. Having a town hall meeting would help to chip away at the lack of communication and bonding displayed. This meeting would consist of a panel of three to five representatives from Public Safety and would be open for the public to attend. People could ask any questions and talk about any concerns they had and public safety would be able to directly answer them. Safety tips could also be shared during this time.
Without communication, there is no community, and without communication there is no unity.
Najah Hendricks is a fourth-year majoring in social work and a YES minor. NH871270@wcupa.edu
Courtney Barbour is a fourth-year majoring in computer science and minoring in tech writing. CB901997@wcupa.edu
Camryn Council is a second-year student majoring criminal justice. CC911894@wcupa.edu
Charnel Thompson is a fourth-year student majoring in business management with a minor in culture and media. CT869337@wcupa.edu
Midori Suber is a third-year student majoring in media and cultures with minors in criminal justice and African-American studies. MS895361@wcupa.edu