Update and Findings of Independent Investigation
Dear Members of the Bates Community:
I write to share the findings of the investigation into an incident that occurred on campus on Saturday, May 13; to outline actions the college will take to address issues relating to campus security and event management; and to work with students and others in our community to address ongoing issues related to race and climate on campus.
As you may recall from previous messages, on May 13 an incident occurred at a dance hosted by a student organization involving a black male student, event staff members, and Bates security officers that resulted in the student being handcuffed in front of his peers. Because of the complexity of the situation and the varying accounts of what happened, the college engaged two independent investigators with higher education and civil rights experience to conduct an impartial and thorough assessment of the night’s events in order to:
- Provide factual findings summarizing what happened;
- Determine whether any students involved violated the Bates College Code of Student Conduct;
- Determine whether Bates security officers acted reasonably and in conformity with the Bates College Department of Security and Campus Safety manual policies and training procedures;
- Determine what role, if any, race played in the incident; and
- Make recommendations for appropriate action.
Over the course of two weeks, the investigators interviewed 30 individuals, including students who participated in or witnessed the events and security officers and other staff members who were present at or responded to the incident. In addition, they reviewed numerous statements, dispatch logs, video recordings, and other documents. The investigators’ report containing detailed factual findings and related conclusions and recommendations is posted here.
FINDINGS FROM THE INVESTIGATION
As the report indicates, after careful analysis of all relevant information, the investigators concluded that the security officers did not violate college policies or procedures when responding to the incident. They found, as well, that the officers acted with the appropriate use of force, including placing the student in handcuffs, because previous attempts at de-escalation had failed and they saw no other way to control the situation and protect their own safety.
With respect to the behavior of the students involved, they concluded that one student engaged in disorderly conduct in violation of the Student Code of Conduct, but none of the students involved in the incident engaged in assault or intimidation. Based on all of the circumstances the college determined that no disciplinary action is required.
With respect to the role that race may have played, the investigators concluded that security officers did not engage in racial discrimination in their actions, but that race played a role in the overall incident in the way that all parties — students, event staff, and security officers — interacted with one another. There was racial tension surrounding the dance before it started, and it escalated as the night went on, notwithstanding attempts, at various points, by both students and security officers to calm the situation down.
BROADER ISSUES OF RACE AND CAMPUS CLIMATE
While the findings of the investigation have led us to conclude that disciplinary action against anyone involved in the incident is not appropriate, the events of May 13 were distressing to all involved. Furthermore, they have brought to the surface other, pre-existing issues involving race and campus climate that are of deep concern to me personally and to many members of the Bates community. Between May 13 and commencement, these concerns were pressed by a group of students through peaceful protests, written documents outlining issues and calls to action, and a teach-in involving students and faculty and open to the entire Bates community.
I appreciate the thoughtfulness and sense of urgency with which students have undertaken the work of bringing these issues to the fore, as well as the support and common cause expressed by members of the Bates community on campus and beyond. As much as we might wish it were otherwise, my many conversations with students of color at Bates underscore that the issues they have raised are real and personal and painful, and they cut across all dimensions of the student experience. College is about realizing one’s dreams. But too many of our students — whom we have invited to be part of this community because they are motivated, talented, and have much to offer — have experiences at Bates that leave them feeling devalued or discouraged.
Thus, I take seriously the call to action expressed by our students and reinforced by the investigators’ recommendations. Some of the action required is specific and short-term and focused on security and event management. Other issues will require ongoing conversation and work over a longer time horizon.
ACTIONS RELATED TO CAMPUS SAFETY AND SECURITY
Beginning immediately, we will undertake a series of measures aimed at improving the way we manage events and the way the Department of Security and Campus Safety frames and carries out its interactions with students. These actions will be designed not only to improve Security’s sensitivity with students of color, but also to foster better relationships between Security and all students in a broad range of situations.
Following the May 13 incident, Josh McIntosh, Crystal Williams, Gwen Lexow, and others spoke with many students individually and in groups to gain their perspectives on the role of Security on campus. These conversations underscored the need for ongoing collaboration between students and staff in addressing concerns about the clarity and transparency of policies, the nature of relationships between students and members of the security staff, and the hiring and training of security officers. When we reconvene in the fall, we will work with Student Government to establish a student advisory committee to Security to provide a formal avenue for students to provide input and ideas.
Meanwhile, we will build on work already underway over the past few months to improve the Department of Security and Campus Safety. Additional students have joined the Director of Security search committee to bolster the student voice in the selection of this important campus leader.
Further, beginning this summer and continuing into the fall, we intend to undertake the following actions:
- Conduct a comprehensive review of policies and procedures within Security and Campus Safety and provide additional training to officers to ensure consistent and equitable implementation of these policies and procedures;
- Communicate the responsibilities of officers and students and the expectations surrounding their interactions;
- Introduce community engagement programs designed to strengthen relationships and build trust between officers and students;
- Develop an enhanced orientation program for new officers and more robust training for all officers;
- Increase the college’s commitment to hiring officers with demonstrated expertise in working with people of all backgrounds and providing additional opportunities for student involvement in the hiring of Security staff; and
- Examine staffing models for campus social events.
LONGER TERM COMMITMENTS
With respect to longer term issues, as I outlined in my letter of May 19, Bates has been hard at work over a period of years, and with great intensity more recently, to diversify our faculty and student body and to create a more inclusive campus culture that supports all students for full participation in the life of the college. We have made demonstrable progress, but, as I have said many times, we still have a long way to go.
In my earlier letter, I outlined the significant steps we have taken over the past several years to staff the Office of Intercultural Education effectively and create stronger support for underrepresented students as well as programming for the broader college community. Additionally, we have initiated systemic changes to improve the effectiveness of the college in enacting its values across a variety of dimensions. These changes include providing faculty with opportunities to enhance inclusivity in their classes; revamping our accessible education office; working to ensure that our data systems reflect the preferred names of our faculty, staff, and students; and ensuring that the way we speak about and depict diversity on our campus is appropriately aspirational, while also realistic. Additionally, when hiring for key staff positions, we make sure that new employees understand that the project of enacting the college’s values regarding diversity and inclusion is the work of the many, not the few.
With respect to faculty hiring, of the 25 tenure-track faculty and long-term lecturers hired over the past two years, more than half — 13 — have been from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. We have also turned our attention to the role of curriculum and pedagogy in fostering success for all students. Over the past year, a committee led by Associate Dean of Faculty Kathy Low and Associate Vice President Crystal Williams has been working to design a comprehensive approach for supporting students for success in STEM fields and secure funding for the initiative. This work will continue this summer and throughout the next academic year. Finally, the discussion and reform of general education now underway, while limited in scope, has already opened the conversation about how the liberal arts curriculum of the 21st century should reflect diversity in its many dimensions.
I commend the efforts of our students in advancing conversation and action on these vitally important issues, and I look forward to building on this energy and momentum when students and faculty return in the fall. Because Bates is part of a larger social context in which race continues to play a powerful role, our work as a college will necessarily be imperfect. But we will continue to work as hard and effectively as possible to close the gap between the founding ideals of Bates and the lived experience of all of our students.