The Black Student Union (BSU) is a new student engagement initiative on campus. In an attempt to include all the minority clubs on campus, BSU's main initiative is to tackle campus issues that pertain to students of color. On Thursday, Oct. 18, they hosted the first ever "Bridging The Gap" event that was meant to be between students and public safety officers. The event did end up going a completely different route, however, it still managed to satisfy the discussion.
BSU President Manny Familia (‘19) began the discussion by iterating the rules of the forum. The rest of the board members were to go around the space and help students phrase questions that were then brought into the whole discussion, so if anyone had a question a board member would come over and help recite it back to the main group. The second rule was of general respect when others were talking. The panel for this event was comprised of several administration members. First was the new Associate Dean of Students, William Petrick, who is in charge of overseeing student conduct and community standards. Also present was Title IX Coordinator Emily Ralph, who can be found in EC 143 and is in charge of any discrimination or biases that occur on campus. William Ortman, the Director of Public Safety, works closely with Ralph and facilities, and was also a part of the panel.
During the panel, students were able to ask questions on pressing issues on campus to gain some clarity on certain topics. One of the questions pre-picked by Familia was, “What is the approach to sexual assault cases on campus?” The panel explained that time is an important factor in sexual assault investigations on campus, so the sooner the incident is reported the better. What many students do not know is that when assaults are first reported, Drew brings students to Morristown Medical Center for forensic examination free of charge and the survivor is in control of how the case will proceed. They can make a report without a formal investigation if they choose so. Additionally, during the forensic exam, the survivor can request that Public Safety or Madison Police Department are not present if they wish to keep it an anonymous case. In this case, the evidence can be kept for up to five years until they choose to proceed with an investigation.
Students were also concerned with Public Safety's behavior on campus and sexism that they have faced. The panel brought up that all Public Safety officers are required to go into the police academy before starting at Drew, and they attend Title IX workshops each summer, which is the only training they receive. When students expressed disappointment at the lack of Public Safety officers in attendance for the panel, Ortman stepped out to call a few more. Officer Traynor and Officer O'Donnell then stepped in to express the side of Public Safety. An issue students wanted to know about was why public safety acts like a patrol force instead of a response force. Their response was that due to police academy training, a majority of their job has a patrol component to operate, but they are now trying to remove themselves from that form of assertion in order to move into a more service oriented department. Traynor then stated, “We don’t get to meet a lot of you guys and that can breed for confusion and misunderstanding and that needs to change.” Statistics from Dean Petrick came in handy when it came to how much Public Safety is actually involved when it comes to on-campus incidents. “In the last week there have been an underwhelming number of 103 incidents reported on campus. Out of the charged incidents reported, only 34 involved Public Safety and 24 of those were called in by ResLife.”
The forum went almost an hour overtime and was filmed live on BSU's instagram for anyone that couldn't make it. The turn out seemed somewhat lacking considering the amount of issues that were discussed that related to every Drew student. However there was an announcement that there will now be future opportunities to continue similar important discussions. Professor Jonathan Golden announced that in a few weeks Drew University will be the first campus in the country to start a Youth and Police Initiative chapter to bring students, Madison Police and Public Safety Officers together in an open and safe dialogue. The organization will take part in four two-hour sessions, where officers and youth will tackle team building and conflict training through a forum in an effort to gain mutual respect. This began through Americorps’ Safer Communities Project and has been successful in over 20 cities in the U.S. These forums will take place over several days in November, and they are still looking for recruits. If you would like to be a part of this discussion email either Professor Golden (firstname.lastname@example.org) or BSU President Manny Familia (email@example.com).