Dear Prof. Harmon,
Open Letter on University Security and Student Safety
My name is Vivek Santayana, and I am the Equality and Wellbeing Officer of a Geas: the Role-Playing Society at the University. I am also an international student from India. I am writing regarding the heinous racist attack on our campus on the evening of 11 December 2020, the University Security’s response to it, and the University leadership’s statement on 14 December.
I, as well as all of the undersigned members of Geas, would like to echo the concerns that other students, particularly members of East Asian and South-East Asian communities, are raising regarding students’ safety in light of this attack and other similar incidents in the past months on or near the Central Area campus. As a student society, Geas takes our responsibility to ensure the welfare of our members, especially those from marginalised backgrounds, very seriously, and we are committed to actively resisting racism.
We are especially alarmed by reports of the inadequacy of the University Security’s response to the situation. At our Society, we relied on the Security staff to ensure the safety of our members at in-person functions or events that we used to organise. When we have had incidents of abusive or hostile behaviour at our events in the past, we have turned to Security staff for their support. They remain an important point of call in all of our safety and complaints procedures. However, such reports of inaction have severely undermined our confidence in them, and consequently diminishes our ability to support our members’ safety and welfare.
To ensure the safety of our members, we need the Security staff to be able to support our Society by responding to and aiding students in the event that such incidents occur. This is why we are calling on you, as Vice-Principal Students, to:
- Launch a comprehensive investigation into University Security’s handling of this incident as well as their efficacy in dealing with racism on campus,
- Ensure that security staff are adequately trained, resourced, and up-skilled in assisting trauma survivors, so that they can intervene and support students during such incidents, and
- Hold staff who were responsible for security when the attack took place accountable for the way they respond to and handle complaints from students.
We would also like to involve the EUSA Vice-President Welfare to ensure that student voices are heard in the process, and that members of the BAME/BIPOC communities’ experiences and needs in particular are listened to.
We acknowledge that this is a distressing time for all students, especially students from minoritised backgrounds. The University has a public sector duty under §149 of the Equality Act (2010) to eliminate discrimination and harassment, and to promote good relations between communities. The leadership of the University thus has a responsibility to be proactive in its commitment to anti-racist work, and must recognise and address these incidents with due regard to the wider context. This is why it is imperative that any review or investigation of the University Security is conducted with particular emphasis on dealing with racism.
Moreover, simply increasing security and/or police presence on campus will not address the racism and inequality that are at the root of this issue. This securitisation and increased policing will further have a detrimental impact on BAME/BIPOC members of our community. We need a systematic and concerted effort by the University to support the welfare of students as well as local communities in order to mitigate these inequalities through long-term community-based approaches.
We as a student society want to ensure that the University is a safe place for our members, and we would like to lend our voice in support of students directly affected by racism on campus. This is why we are joining the call by student activists in the Racism Unmasked group for the University to take tangible and concrete measures in ensuring that our campuses are safe for students, and to pay specific and focussed attention to issues of racism in this current climate.
Equality and Wellbeing Officer
Geas: the Role-Playing Society
As well as the undersigned members of the Society:
Yves Pearl Hurley
Alumni and Non-Student Members