Singled Out: Is profiling a problem on campus?

Lachlan Johnson

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Hannah Bartman contributed reporting.

*Some of the names in this article have been changed to protect the identities of students.

Armed police officers approached the French House as sophomore Sami Carrillo, a student of color, stood in the doorway. It was 2 a.m. the night before Thanksgiving, and Carrillo was being accused of trespassing in his own home after refusing to present identification when he opened his door to a Whitman security officer.

According to some students and alumni, racial profiling has been an issue on campus for years. But since the incident at the French House during this year’s Thanksgiving Break, Carrillo has been organizing students and faculty of color to pressure the administration to take action.

Sami Carrillo ('17), photo by Annabelle Marcovici.

Sami Carrillo (’17), photo by Annabelle Marcovici.

“It was really weird to have that happen here to me because the whole time over the break I was dwelling with some of my friends over how we felt so removed from these sort of things. Yet here it is, pops up, wakes me out of bed,” said Carrillo.

Carrillo was watching movies in bed the night before Thanksgiving when he heard a knock on the door. He went downstairs, thinking he would find housemates who forgot their keys, grateful to be let inside. What he found instead was a Whitman security officer who told him an upstairs window was open and asked for Carrillo’s identification. After Carrillo refused to search for his ID, the officer called the Walla Walla Police Department to request back up.

Two police cars arrived on campus. According to Carrillo, the officers who stepped out remained calm and defused the standoff in the doorway. Carrillo agreed to search for a form of identification; his wallet was lost, so he had neither his driver’s license nor student ID. Instead, he managed to find his passport. A WWPD officer looked at it and told the Whitman security officer Carrillo belonged there.

Whitman Security declined to comment on this specific incident.

According to President George Bridges, the security officer in question claimed to have seen someone through a window of the French House. Because there had recently been several break-ins in the vicinity of the Interest House Community, the officer knocked on the door. Carrillo was required to comply with the officer’s request for identification, as the Student Conduct Policy states that all students must comply with the direction of college employees in the course of doing their job.

There are currently no clear guidelines in the student conduct policy for when a security officer is justified in asking for students’ identification or what response should be taken if an individual refuses to provide ID. According to Bridges, the college is in the process of drafting these guidelines and plans to implement them by the end of the semester.

Students speak out

In early December, members of For Us By Us (FUBU), an informal mentoring program and discussion space for Whitman students, faculty and staff of color, met to speak about issues surrounding the August shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo. After Carrillo told the meeting about his experience at the French House, over 30 other students and faculty spoke about their own experiences being profiled on campus.

One of these students was first-year Penny*, who was asked for her ID by a security officer as he held the door to Prentiss Hall open for her. According to Penny, as she was walking away from the officer, she saw a white student enter the building and walk by the same officer without being asked to show ID.

“It wasn’t that surprising, but it was shocking to know … We’re not initially looked at and thought of as students. We’re [seen] as outsiders,” said Penny. “It was Sami’s experience that represented everybody’s experience of it. Most people of color have gone through racial profiling.”

Sophomore Brenna Two Bears had a similarly uncomfortable experience with a security officer during Thanksgiving Break. Two Bears and her friend, both students of color, were sitting outside of Prentiss when a security guard approached them

Brenna Two Bears ('17), photo by Annabelle Marcovici.

Brenna Two Bears (’17), photo by Annabelle Marcovici.

and asked for their IDs. While Two Bears was searching through her bag, the officer began to question them, asking where they lived on campus and if they could point to their home.

“It happens in other places as well to me. It was bound to happen here too. But now I’m mad because I came here specifically so I wouldn’t have to deal with that anymore,” said Two Bears.

Senior Mcebo Maziya recalled an incident from his sophomore year in which he was approached by a security officer and asked to produce his ID while studying with other white students in the Olin Hall Computer Lab at 9:00 p.m.

“He demanded to see my student ID and I was like, ‘Are you serious right now? You want to see my ID? Specifically?’ I was looking through my bag, and as I was, he was being obnoxious, like, ‘See, you don’t have it,’ and eventually I found my ID and … he looked regretful but he didn’t say anything,” said Maziya.

Community support and administrative response

Following the confrontation at the French House over Thanksgiving Break, Carrillo wrote a letter to President Bridges describing the incident and denouncing racial profiling on campus. Sami and dozens of his supporters, including students and faculty, gathered in Memorial Building outside Bridges’ office on Thursday, Dec. 11. Together they read the letter aloud to demonstrate that Carrillo was not alone in his experience.

“I decided to support [Carrillo] on the tentative grounds that his narrative seems to be motivated by nothing other than facts, and if indeed it was a function of facts, then those facts suggested massive ethical problems, which I thought a protest would seek to counter,” said Associate Professor of English Gaurav Majumdar.

Since the public reading of the letter, Carrillo has engaged in one-on-one conversations about profiling with President Bridges and Chief Diversity Officer Kazi Joshua. Carrillo and other members of FUBU hope to push the administration to publicly acknowledge racial profiling as an issue that must be addressed on campus, and they hope to introduce a required training for security staff on racial profiling.

Currently all college employees, upon their initial hiring, are required to take a short online course. This course describes different forms of harassment and discrimination, but it does not contain a specific definition or thorough explanation of racial profiling. Employees are asked to redo the course every three years, though they may choose not to participate.

Security staff will receive additional training in the upcoming months; the trainings are not in direct response to recent allegations of profiling, but administrators hope they will help address those concerns.

Within the next couple months, security officers will attend three courses hosted by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Department. Some of the topics these courses will cover include conflict resolution, body language, authority ethics and communication skills. Additionally, by this summer, all officers will have attended 40 hours of training at the The Basic Law Enforcement Academy. In the upcoming semester, Dr. Thacher Carter and Rick Baez of the Counseling Center will meet with security staff to discuss conflict in interpersonal relations, and on Apr. 16-18, Tamara King from Washington University will conduct a workshop on how to identify and prevent racial profiling.

“Ultimately this is about respect: Do [we] respect the other person for their accomplishments and for their intellect, for their contributions to the college?” said Bridges. “I don’t think [training] should just be [focused on] racial profiling. There should be training on every dimension of discrimination.”

Mcebo Maziya ('15), photo by Annabelle Marcovici.

Mcebo Maziya (’15), photo by Annabelle Marcovici.

Not trusting the system

Though many Whitman students of color have stories of being targeted for their racial identity on campus, relatively few choose to file complaints through official channels. The only known complaint of racial profiling filed since at least 2012 was filed by Carrillo for a separate incident at a concert last year.

According to college policy, complaints of racial profiling are categorized as “racial harassment” and are handled through the Grievance Policy. The Grievance Policy is part of the faculty handbook, but it is not clear who holds the ultimate authority in revising and updating the policy. Responsibility for updating the policy is shared by some combination of the Office Dean of Students, the Committee of Division Chairs, the Faculty Senate, Human Resources, the provost, the president and the Board of Trustees.

Some students have argued that the Grievance Policy is relatively unpublicized compared to other official avenues of complaint, such as the Sexual Misconduct Policy. The policy as it currently stands also lacks a specific definition for racial profiling.

“Up until now, I had no idea the Grievance Policy exists. No one tells you that [it exists] when you get to campus … Racial profiling needs attention on campus and its own policy and system of handling this matter,” said Karina* in an email to The Pioneer. Currently a junior, she claims to have been profiled by students at Greek events but has never filed a formal complaint with the college.

Under the current Grievance Policy, any complaints of racial profiling filed against Whitman security officers are investigated either by Director of Human Resources Dennis Hopwood or a member of his staff.

“Profiling to me connotes intentional discrimination. As a human resources director for Whitman, I would need to be convinced that the facts either prove or are highly suggestive of a particular group being targeted and called out and treated differently in order for me to reach the conclusion that profiling happened,” said Hopwood.

Many students who have stories about being racially profiled believe that the complainant should not have to prove there was a conscious intent to racially profile. They argue proving intent can be too difficult and that it is possible for students to be profiled due to internalized biases.

According to President Bridges, rather than prove that an individual made a conscious decision to profile someone, college investigators must discover if there is a larger pattern of discrimination.

“I believe that if there are allegations that individuals or groups of individuals have engaged in a consistent practice of discrimination, we have a legal obligation to look into that. I think we have a responsibility to look into what happened, and why it happened, and to correct [discriminatory practices] as quickly as we can,” said Bridges.

As Carrillo’s complaint was the only one of its kind filed in years, it was ultimately not found valid by the investigatory process. Carrillo believes that students not using the Grievance Policy to report profiling has created a cycle of inaction.

“If people are not reporting stuff, there’s nothing to go off of. But people are not reporting stuff because the results are not coming through. At some point it feels like there’s no purpose for going through the grievance process,” he said.

Searching for answers

In recent weeks, the college has taken steps to improve conversations about diversity on campus and to improve training about racial profiling for security officers. According to President Bridges, these programs were planned before Carrillo came forward with his experiences and are not a direct result of recent actions concerning racial profiling.

“I’ve been wanting to move in this direction for a while, and I think what we’re seeing and hearing is greater expression of concern by students and faculty about these issues. I wouldn’t say [the actions being taken are] a direct response to [the concerns], but I would say they’ve underscored the importance of doing this. It’s simply something that we talked about doing a couple of years ago, and we’re launching it now,” said Bridges.

Bridges said he hesitates to use the term profiling in relation to what happened to Carrillo. Though he published a letter to the editor in the Feb. 19 issue of The Pioneer about the importance of tolerance on campus, the letter did not address Carrillo’s incident, and no official college statement has yet acknowledged racial profiling as a campus issue.

“In order to [create change], you need to acknowledge these things are happening … How can you work on something you aren’t acknowledging as an issue?” said Carrillo.