Against the backdrop of police brutality in the United States, Wellesley Against Mass Incarceration (WAMI) has created a pledge for Wellesley students to not call campus police in non-life threatening situations. So far, over 400 members of the Wellesley Community have signed the petition. WAMI is a student-run organization devoted to the cause of ending mass incarceration in the United States through activism and raising awareness. Their activities on campus include hosting lectures with professors and organizing prison pen pal campaigns.
Rachael Labes ’20, a co-president of WAMI, said in a statement to the Wellesley News that some students do not fully understand the implications of inviting an armed officer to enter a situation. She pointed out that calling the police could be especially harmful when there is a student of color or someone suffering from a mental illness involved.
“We [WAMI] think it’s important for students to recognize that calling the police should not be taken lightly. The police are dangerous, specifically for black and latinx students and those with mental illnesses. Individuals with mental illnesses are 16 times more likely to be killed in interactions with the police,” Labes shared.
There is currently a trend of Wellesley students calling campus police over their neighbors being too noisy. For example, Julia Jung ’20 was at a dorm party during her first year when campus police showed up unexpectedly due to an unknown student’s complaints. Jung indicated that the student did not communicate with the people throwing the party or with the Residential Assistant (RA) before involving campus police.
“I was mostly just surprised that there wasn’t a knock on the door telling us to quiet down,” Jung said. “This person didn’t go to the RA or come to us so we could have a conversation about it. They just called campus police and had them deal with it. There was no communication.”
Jung’s experience is not an isolated one. Labes shared that the frequency of Wellesley students calling campus police over noise complaints is part of why WAMI started its campaign. She hopes that moving forward, students will communicate with their peers and RAs rather than involve the police. That way, more students can feel safe in the dorms.
“Calling campus police on another student not only jeopardizes their well-being, but also takes away their ability to feel that their room is their own safe space.” Labes added, “Just communicate with your peers and respect the community.”
Izzy Smith ’22 is one of the many students who signed the pledge not to call campus police. Smith shared that they have personally only had positive interactions with the campus police. However, they signed the petition because, “the presence of campus police makes a lot of students feel uncomfortable.”
Campus Police Chief Lisa Barbin expressed some concern over WAMI’s petition to not call campus police. Barbin expressed that while the Wellesley Campus Police Department wants to “promote students taking the lead to manage their own community concerns, students should know that they can call us for support in any situation. They should not worry about what is and what is not an emergency.”
It is widely unknown that members of campus police are armed at all times. Daniela Kriemerman-Arrayo ’19 told the Wellesley News that they feel unsafe knowing members of campus police are armed.
“Campus police having weapons on them makes me feel very unsafe as someone who has witnessed police brutality firsthand at a demonstration back home,” Kriemerman-Arrayo said.
Kriemerman-Arrayo added that having armed officers at protests can be dangerous, even on college campuses. They pointed to the infamous protest held at Middleburry College in 2017 over conservative political scientist Charles Murray speaking on campus. During the protest, a faculty member was pushed and left seriously injured. Though it was a protester who exerted violence against the faculty member, Kriemerman-Arrayo feels that the campus police officers at Middleburry College only served to escalate an already tense situation.
“The campus security forces assumed that [the protestors] would be violent and used force against them rather than try to de-escalate the entire situation,” they stated.
Barbin defends the department’s decision to arm officers. She said, “Wellesley’s Campus Police officers are armed to protect the community and themselves from any immediate danger of death or great bodily harm, or external threats from beyond campus.” Barbin pointed out that in her 18 year tenure at the Wellesley Campus Police Department, no officer has ever drawn or discharged their weapon.
Labes feels that this is even more of a reason to disarm campus police. “Chief Barbin has said that campus police haven’t discharged their weapons under her time as chief, so why even have them?” she asked. “We [WAMI] believe the relationship between the student body and campus police can be improved by disarming the police. We hope to gain enough student support to eventually start a petition to disarm campus police.”
Labes urges students who want to support WAMI’s campaign against calling campus police in non-life threatening situations to, “Get involved by signing the pledge! Show your sticker off, and foster conversations with your peers about these issues.” She added, “And if you choose to call the police, on or off-campus, always be aware of the implications that can have for people of color and those with mental illnesses.”