American University has been plagued with hate crimes within the last year, with four incidents occurring since the start of the 2016-2017 academic school year. In September of this year, several Confederate flags with pieces of cotton attached to them were found in various academic buildings on campus. This hate crime was seemingly committed in response to the unveiling of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center headed by distinguished scholar and professor Ibram X. Kendi. Similarly, after Taylor Dumpson was sworn in as the first black female in American University’s history to serve as the Student Government President, several bananas were found hanging from nooses on American University’s campus in three different locations, which specifically targeted Alpha Kappa Alpha, the historically black sorority to which Dumpson belongs.
After these despicable hate crimes, students effectively mobilized to demand reforms on campus, a critical pillar of which was to ensure the safety of students of color and minorities on campus. While the university agreed to these reforms and promised to increase the presence of campus security to prevent similar hate crimes from occurring on campus, a couple of months after the last hate crime, I contend that American University is still highly vulnerable to another hate crime occurring on our campus.
Specifically, on Sunday morning, several students discovered anti-capitalist graffiti near one of the side entrances of the Mary Graydon Center, which read, “Break the Chains, Capitalism Kills,” as shown in the picture above. Why is this relevant to the potential for additional hate crimes to occur at American University? Simply, a racist and hateful message could have just as easily been written, leading students of color to reasonably feel unsafe on campus. The ability for someone to vandalize our campus, especially on the quad, is highly concerning.
The fact that this vandalism occurred demonstrates several concerning facts about our campus. First, it highlights that Public Safety is not adequately patrolling at night on campus, despite the university’s promise to increase the presence of Public Safety on campus after such aforementioned hate crimes. Second, it indicates that Public Safety is not monitoring its surveillance cameras properly, as the location of this graffiti appears to be within the line of sight of such cameras, and this incident would have lasted for at least a couple of minutes, despite the fact that Public Safety claims to monitor surveillance cameras 24/7. Lastly, it demonstrates that their methods for securitizing students and property on campus needs to be altered.
From analyzing these incidents, I have learned several crucial lessons about our campus and its security. First, while this should not have to be stated, American University is a private university, thus individuals who have no affiliation with the university have no inherent right to be on campus, especially late at night. Second, there are far too many “blind spots” on the quad and near the residence halls, in regards to where surveillance cameras are positioned. Additionally, such cameras deployed on “blue lights” and those that are on the exterior of buildings are not adequate enough to provide campus security with clear and visible surveillance footage. This was demonstrated by the surveillance footage of the hate crime which occurred in May of 2017, which was so blurry and taken from so far away that it was impossible to identify a suspect.
Convenience stores and bodegas have better surveillance systems and are more helpful to law enforcement to catch perpetrators. Third, the tactics that Public Safety, American's Metropolitan Police precinct, have employed are ineffective. One such tactic includes deploying a police cruiser on the quad at night to deter individuals from criminal activities. Yet, this deterrent is largely ineffective, as shown by the graffiti committed near where the police cruiser is stationed, due to the fact that the campus safety vehicle is always empty. This is the equivalent to leaving out a fake wooden dog on a golf course or athletic facility to scare off geese. While the geese may be fooled the first few times by the wooden dog, eventually they realize that the dog is not real, and begin to return to the course or facility. Lastly, it has shown to me that we need to be more proactive in reporting suspicious behavior and condemning all forms of racism on our campus. This means not only condemning the actions of individuals after hate crimes, but in our lives on campus every day, from racially insensitive remarks or “jokes,” to discrimination of people based solely on their race, color, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
College is undoubtedly stressful enough. Nobody ever should have to worry whether they are safe on their campus.
Photo credit Christopher Fenn, American Agora