Students Deserve a Say in Campus Safety, Opinion Piece

Written by: Dahlia Bergen; Cascadia student and Mumina Ali; UWB student

Dear UWB and Cascadia Community,

The Advisory Council on Campus Safety, (ACCS), is a joint University of Washington Bothell and Cascadia College group that aims to address and represent perspectives from both UWB and Cascadia communities on campus safety issues. This council includes members that represent UWB faculty, Cascadia faculty, UWB students, Cascadia students, facilities services, and campus safety. We wanted to discuss the experiences of Dahlia Bergen (Cascadia College Events and Advocacy Board Programming Chair) and Mumina Ali (Associated Students of the University of Washington Bothell Director of Government Relations) while being UWB and Cascadia student representatives on the ACCS. We wanted to discuss this because we want to inform the campus community of our side of the story and the struggles we have had to endure during this process.

We were asked to join this council at the beginning of this school year to be student representatives on the topic of campus safety. The idea of a campus safety survey had been brought up to us at the beginning of the year because the council had done a survey a few years prior and wanted to reassess student feedback. In light of the murders of several African Americans by police officers and the Black Lives Matter protests that occurred over the summer, the council was charged with a few tasks. The formal charge letter written by President Murray and Chancellor Yeigh states that the council should advise on: “the operations of our current campus safety system and suggest changes or improvements that can be made to ensure the safety and well-being of people on campus, particularly Black, Indigenous, Latinx and persons of color”, “our current agreement with the Bothell Police Department to have a storefront officer operating out of our campus, and whether we should discontinue, alter, or renew it”, and “our relationship between members of our broad community, Campus Security Office and the City of Bothell law enforcement agencies and officials.” We as a council decided that we would conduct a survey. We wanted to make sure we got student, faculty, and staff feedback on the topic so that we could make an educated and accurate recommendation to the administration regarding the tasks mentioned above.

Even though we were asked to be the delegates for students on this council, our voice has been undermined and ignored during the entirety of this process. There were several instances of this but just as an example, one case had to do with the length of the survey. We had advocated that the survey be longer so that we could ask more in depth questions to get a better feel for the way that students had felt on the topic of divestment. We were immediately shut down by the council and told that if the survey was longer that no one would have the motivation to complete it. Although we acknowledged that this is a real issue, adding just a few extra questions would not make that much of a difference. In the end, our voice was barely listened to and the council ended up going with whatever the chairs of the council advocated for. This is just one of the uncountable moments like it.

We were not explicitly told this, but it was implied on several occasions that because we were students, we were inexperienced and naive. It was shown through tone and body language that we didn’t know what we were talking about or what was best for the students. It felt as though we were experiencing microaggressions from a group that claimed to want the best for us. And although the outcome of the town hall on campus safety that occurred on April 6th 2021 was incredibly frustrating, it was not surprising to us in any way because this forum was no exception to the ways that we have been treated on this council. Our experience has been astonishingly disheartening and troublesome. We have never had to shout so loud for the student voice to be heard. On a campus that is largely funded by student dollars and therefore should listen to students the most, it was astounding how little this actually occurred. Especially, as mentioned earlier, when the task of the council was to “ensure the safety and well-being of people on campus,” while a majority of the campus population is students. It was appalling to us that this council claimed to want what was best for the campus community yet only allowed the students to barely have a voice in the matter. The council had an attitude of just getting this survey done as quickly as possible with the least amount of effort involved. Whether you agree with divesting from the Bothell Police Department or not, this topic is extremely important and for the council to approach it with such a dismissive attitude was offensive. This topic was something that we were incredibly passionate about and we felt like we were the only members who actually cared. 

The Advisory Council of Campus Safety made the decision to host a public forum in February, after we had been meeting to put the survey together for several months. From the outset, student representatives didn’t want to host a public forum that would require outreach to students to be disproportionately placed on ASUWB and the Events and Advocacy Board. Our concern was that of students—who are tired, weary, and would benefit from less Zoom calls after an entire year of online learning. Our concern was also for our teams, who have worked incredibly hard to host events and spread resources to support our constituencies, only to be met with a justified lack of energy. Our approach was always to meet students where they are at. An approach that forced them to come to us would overwork our teams and exhaust our peers. We were given noncommittal and vague answers when we asked about how student outreach would be conducted.

We decided that we needed to pick our battles. A public forum, which the council started to call a town hall, was not something that we chose to argue about. Particularly because of what we thought we were planning. In the weeks leading up to the town hall, the chairs of the Council sent out a questionnaire for the UWB/Cascadia community to submit their forum. We were also asked to promote this. Questionnaire aside, we still believed the town hall to have a live question and answer session, with room to discuss from community members and administration. We met with several groups, students and faculty alike to ask for their representation as an audience, as well as promotion of this issue in general. Following the Decriminalize UWB petition last June, we felt it was imperative to meet with stakeholders one on one to discuss what was being done and extend personal asks to attend the town hall. As student representatives and representatives of the Council, we met with the Cascadia College Equity and Inclusion Council, the UWB Diversity Council, Achieving Community Transformation, Collegiate Community Transitions, and the Black Student Union to ask for their support. While these groups promoted and attended the event, they were horrified at what transpired. 

A town hall, by definition, is a public meeting around a shared subject of interest that is utilized to inform citizens about community issues, gauge where the public stands and identify solutions. 

With that definition in mind, here’s what we thought would happen: a frequently asked section of questions to be answered by a wide array of panelists representing all stakeholders, including ourselves. A live conversation for members of the audience to follow up and ask questions of their own with available closed captioning. A genuine town hall format to foster a true discussion about campus safety and our relationship with the Bothell Police Department. 

Here’s what actually happened, in the words of UWB professor, Dr. Dan Berger:

 “There was no discussion whatsoever. There was no chance to ask questions or raise different thoughts, opinions, or experiences at any point in the session. The preselected list of speakers, which was not advertised in advance, did not include any student representatives or any number of other stakeholders relevant to the conversation. Instead, the event was largely a promotional opportunity for the Bothell Police Department.” 

The locked-down webinar-style format, with a disabled zoom chat, no way to see each other, and no way to ask questions was not at all what we had intended to organize. The 90-minute slot ended at 45 minutes. There was time for a fair and open discourse that never occurred. There was time to hear dissenting voices, particularly those who have been speaking up about Bothell Police Department’s presence on our campus for years. Particularly our staff and faculty who have done the research, compiled the data, and know our community inside and out. We had wanted from the beginning to share alternatives to an armed campus safety officer but it wasn’t even on the agenda.

We were angry. We were furious because it’s pretty clear that an environment like that does not signal to our campus that the administration or the Council actually cares about their input. It signals that they believe they can sweep this critical conversation under the rug by employing the same destructive strategies that have silenced marginalized groups, particularly Black and Indigenous folks, for generations. Stripping us of our agency in this conversation is appalling. It’s patronizing to be lectured to. Our lived experience is what makes this campus what it is. For a campus that prides itself on the breadth of our collective background and experiences, this was a slap in the face. This discussion is not about protecting the department of campus safety and promoting Bothell Police Department. This discussion should center us. 

We recognize that this “town hall” has shaken our legitimacy as student representatives, the legitimacy of the Council and its process thus far. Calling into question the ACCS’ legitimacy is valid. It was NOT our intention to show only one perspective, nor did we know that the format of the “town hall” was going to be locked-down into a webinar style. After the “town hall”, several members of the ACCS itself, including Dr. Keith Nitta and Dr. Nader Nazemi, sent emails to the rest of the Council expressing their shock and frustration. Shortly after, several faculty wrote emails. Dahlia sent an email on behalf of students expressing our dismay. Mumina received one from CCT that was in the same vein and replied with shared outrage. We felt like we had broken promises. 

Going forward, we as student representatives are demanding transparency from the administration to ensure that this is a legitimate and authentic process. We, as a council, are currently working on discussing the next steps to serve justice to those who were silenced during the forum on April 6th. We’re committing to a democratic process and we stand in solidarity with the student groups who were outraged by the undemocratic nature of the event.

While we acknowledge that students may feel their opinions will be ignored or disregarded as a result of the way their voices were silenced at the Campus Safety forum, it is still necessary for everyone to take the survey. We are doing our best to make sure that the student voice will be heard through whatever channels necessary. 

Students can take part by filling out the Campus Safety Survey. The Advisory Council on Campus Safety will be making a recommendation towards Chancellor Yeigh and President Murray for the final decision to continue, alter, or break the contract with Bothell Police Department. The survey results will be an essential consideration in this recommendation. Students will be the most impacted by this decision and our input is the most critical component in the discussion on campus safety. There is also priority towards hearing the voices of Black, Indigenous, students of color, and students part of the LGBTQ+ community, as their experiences as a historically marginalized group cannot be overlooked. 

EAB and ASUWB put together a Linktree and infographic for community members to do the necessary research into what safety looks like on campus. The infographic can be found at this link and the Linktree is accessible through https://linktr.ee/uwbsafety. It’s crucial that as many people see this information as possible so as to make informed decisions about the Bothell Police Department’s presence on our campus. 

An additional step that students can take is to email the council directly by finding their emails on the website page. While specific individuals were involved in the last-minute change in the format of the Campus Safety Forum without the consultation of other committee members, the council is still an important point of contact in voicing any of your concerns. We still want to hear student, faculty, and staff feedback on the topic so that we could make an educated and accurate recommendation. You can also email eab@cascadia.edu or asuwbteam@uw.edu with any questions. 

This council was created as a point of contact through gathering feedback from the community to share with the administration. Your experiences are valuable and could be shared directly with the council if you would like. We urge all students to continue to put pressure on the UWB and Cascadia administration to listen to all sides of the discussion, not simply what they want to hear. Whether you agree or disagree with divestment, a discussion on this topic is crucial beyond words. If the council wishes to make an authentic recommendation to higher administration, they must listen to all of the voices in the community. 

 Below, please click the link to see the joint statement and additional statements from our campus community. These are the voices that were silenced, and we stand in solidarity with them. Thank you all for listening to our side of the story and we hope you will take action towards making our campus a safe place for all.

Sincerely,

Dahlia Bergen, Programming Chair on the Cascadia College Events and Advocacy Board

Mumina Ali, Director of Government Relations on the Associated Students of the University of Washington, Bothell

Link to joint statements: HERE

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