Panel calls on CWRU to increase campus safety, eliminate racial bias

Nihal Manjila, Staff Reporter

On Nov. 12, SPARC[conversations] and the Black Student Union hosted a discussion panel called “It’s Us vs. The Problem” to encourage discussion about the topic of police enforcement and police presence on campus. Recent incidents, including the shooting of a third-year student outside the Phi Delta Theta house a few weeks ago, have made the dialogue all the more relevant as Case Western Reserve University reacts to and works against acts of violence against the community.

Johnathan Hicks, third-year student and Executive Chair of the Black Student Union, led the discussion with questions for the panel to talk about and give their views on. The other panelists included third-year student Eamon Sheehan and fourth-year students Nichola Bomani and Arik Stewart.

One of the first questions posed during the panel discussion was about the role and power of police. Hicks spoke about what runs through his head when facing any potential incidents with police.

“Police always have a sense of authority,” said Hicks. “Even off-duty officers still act and try to be the hero.”

He went on to explain that while this is not inherently a bad thing, it does lead one to believe there is a strong sense of bias present.

“People of color have to swallow their pride and respect police even when police don’t show respect [to] us,” he said. Hicks spoke to how he must think about what’s more “valuable:” his dignity or his life, when interacting with police.  

“Dehumanization of people of color by police is the biggest problem,” said Bomani, spiritual relations chair for the Muslim Student Association on police-community relations. She said that “care for others” and “having respect for each other as people” is going to be an essential part of fixing this problem.

“Community is key,” Bomani said.

Bomani also gave a short anecdote about her experiences with police violence. She grew up playing in the same playground as Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was shot and killed by police in 2014. Bomani related her shock as she thought about how she could’ve been in Rice’s place after the incident occurred.

“More policing isn’t the answer,” Sheehan said. “It won’t be effective.”

He said that police should undergo bias training to better understand and restrict their own internal biases toward people.

Stewart, meanwhile, executive president of the Undergraduate Diversity Collaborative, expressed discontent with the university’s response to such incidents. “I don’t like how reactive the university is,” said Stewart. He spoke about how he thinks it is far more effective to diffuse issues before they arise. The Safe Ride program was given as an example.

“We only had four drivers for over a thousand students,” Stewart said.

The Safe Ride service, a late-night service for students who need a ride on campus, was improved after students cried out with complaints and issues in regard to wait times. Stewart mentioned the importance of student feedback to improve safety initiatives.

He also spoke on the bias reporting system, a way of facilitating the reporting and treatment of bias in university staff. Stewart said that the system should be publicized more to the student body, as proven by the majority of students in attendance at the panel not being aware of the system.

“[CWRU] really is a bubble,” Stewart said when asked about the nature of the university in the Cleveland community. Local high schoolers and non-CWRU community members, he said, don’t even know where the campus is.

“People get looks when on or even near the campus even if they’re just on their way to work at the bus stop,” he said, adding that CWRU should work to connect more with the community by actively engaging with members and organizations and publicizing programs and the university to local high schools.

The panel concluded on a note which emphasized the importance of facilitating dialogues to foster a more connected and aware community in respect to the issues explored in the talk.