On Campus Blog

U of M to keep race in alerts, pledges cooperation with black community

We don't trust the system. (MPR Photo / Alex Friedrich)

University of Minnesota officials say they will continue to include race in the description of suspects in their crime alerts.

Last month after a spike in robberies -- which involved suspects described as black -- several African-American campus organizations asked the U to stop including references to race in the alerts.

They said the descriptions were usually too vague to be helpful, and that they led to a general suspicion of African-American males on campus.

But Pam Wheelock, the U's vice president for university services, said students and employees need as much information as possible.

"I believe that a well-informed community is actually an asset," she said, "and we try to be as complete as possible about our descriptions."

Although the federal government doesn't require the release of racial information in alerts, Wheelock many Big Ten universities include it.

She made the statement at a campus-safety forum Wednesday in which students' complaints of racial profiling by police was a main topic.

During a question-and-answer session in the forum, one student questioned whether alerts actually helped police catch the people who committed the crimes.

A few students and faculty also related tales -- both their own experiences and those of friends -- in which they believe police have racially profiled African-Americans on campus.

Alex Dyer, a senior studying African American history, says he's a military veteran.

Dyer (MPR Photo / Alex Friedrich)

One night in fall 2012, he says, an officer followed him around on campus and questioned him at length even though Dyer said he had done nothing unusual.

He told the forum audience, "I go to Afghanistan. I'm fighting for freedom. I'm fighting for safety. I'm fighting for what we believe in. And then I come here and then I get harassed by police."

He said adding more police won't make black students feel any safer -- just more threatened.

"How do we stay on this campus and actually be able to cohabitate this place?" Dyer asked. "Because right now, it's not working."

Irene Duranczyk, an associate professor in postsecondary teaching and learning, said black faculty have been asked to show ID when they've worked after hours at the U. She said she knows of no white professors who have.

University officials say they have not received any formal complaints of racial profiling involving university police -- and that the U does not tolerate the practice.

But several students said people don't trust the system enough to file complaints.

Wheelock said students should feel free to go to her or other administrators they trust. She said U officials want to work with students and faculty to improve the situation.

Among the things students and faculty requested:

They want police who are more culturally aware. That may mean more training, or getting them to just sit down with black students and hear their stories so they understand what it's like to be racially profiled.

They also want a seat at the table when university officials discuss security measures and make decisions.

Black campus leaders at the forum the U's leaders mixed reviews about how they're handling the situation so far.

They sounded grateful that they have come out against racial profiling and made the U's policy on it more prominent.

But they say it has got to step up its handling of the problem if it wants to keep attracting students and faculty of color.

Below is a recent letter Wheelock sent black campus leaders to update them on the university's efforts.