Cops don’t belong on Middlebury’s campus

By Middlebury Cops Off Campus 

This letter was originally sent to Laurie Patton and the Senior Leadership Group on the 3rd of July 2020. The piece has been lightly edited in accordance with The Campus’ style guidelines. 

Dear President Patton,

We value the statement made in your May 31, 2020 email that “Education and action are the two forms of oxygen that can heal.” Your commitment to anti-racism and challenging white supremacy is crucial in fostering a culture of safety and acceptance on campus. We hope that this sentiment is maintained as you read through this letter. We appreciate your time in advance.

One of the most powerful and necessary actions that this administration can take in pursuit of anti-racism is to restructure the role of Public Safety on our campus by dissolving Middlebury’s collaboration with police and private security. We are not the only institution making these requests. Movements against police have proliferated on college campuses across the country. Recently, the University of Minnesota has changed its relationship with the Minneapolis police, pledging not to call them for law enforcement support or special events. UVM students demand UVM cut ties with Burlington police. And more will follow.

Over the past few years, we have repeatedly articulated to both the Office of the President and the rest of the administration that the presence of police, private security and punitive public safety systems do not make our community safer. On the contrary, these entities place the most marginalized groups among us at unnecessary risk. As an institution, policing has a long history of horrific abuses, particularly against marginalized populations. Our reliance on private security and public security systems based in this policing regime fails to protect our community’s health and safety. Instead, it perpetuates an unwelcoming culture by exposing students, faculty, and staff to potential violence at the hands of current and former police. Furthermore, it deepens Middlebury’s complacency in upholding damaging, racist structures of white supremacy. 

At Middlebury College, police and public safety have racially profiled and harassed Black students and faculty. These incidents include when Addis Fouche-Channer, a Black alumna of the class of 2017, was accused of having attended a protest against Charles Murray in March 2017 although WiFi logs indicated that Fouche-Channer was nowhere near the protest, as she had testified. However, Middlebury still believed the Public Safety officer, thus forcing Fouche-Channer into a lengthy and unwarranted judicial process. Later in 2017, a professor of color recounted being aggressively harassed and questioned by Public Safety while unlocking the door to the building where her office was located. Students, faculty and staff of color have experienced countless similar incidents which specifically placed them at risk, highlighting the gap between Public Safety and actual safety. This untenable system of Public Safety is thus incompatible with Middlebury’s stated goal of advancing racial justice and anti-racism.

Sarah Fagan

Despite the concerns expressed by students, faculty, staff and community members, the college has repeatedly collaborated with police and employed private security companies. We hope that during this time of national civil unrest, you can understand the pain and terror experienced by the student body this past semester when we heard that police were coming to campus for a controversial and racist speaker event. We remembered the profiling of Black students that happens frequently on our campus, and we knew that similar instances of racial profiling happen in many of our home communities. We, and Middlebury students before us, repeatedly asked this institution to reconsider its decision to bring armed law enforcement into our home, and we were ignored. In response, students were forced to organize a system of cop-watchers, de-escalators, and legal observers to keep our community safe. We hope you can recognize the irony in this situation. We know that police do not protect us, and we did what was necessary to keep each other safe. We need you to do the same by eliminating police presence at Middlebury.

You acknowledged in the same email referenced earlier that “People of Color in our country walk daily with deep vulnerability to the threats of institutionalized violence. They face greater risk of death in the time of coronavirus, greater risk of death on the streets and in their homes.” The same risks of institutionalized violence are present at Middlebury. The question is: what will you do to mitigate them? 

There is a simple, powerful and effective position you can take to prevent police brutality. You can cut off all future collaborations with law enforcement and private security around campus events and commit to not calling the police. You can dismantle Public Safety’s punitive role, abolish citations, and reconstruct a public safety team that is accountable to the community, with expertise in medical first aid, mental and sexual health, drug and alcohol harm reduction, de-escalation and conflict resolution. 

You can collaborate with the town of Middlebury to defund the local police department and envision transformative community solutions, and you can support student-led workshops on cop-watching, legal observing and de-escalation tactics. These actions will not be enough to repair the years of trauma that have occurred at Middlebury nor the centuries of oppression and violence faced by Black people and other people of color throughout this country. But they are a necessary step towards justice.

We know we have a long way to go, but we imagine a future wherein Middlebury is a safer, more equitable place for all of us. We imagine a Middlebury where policing is obsolete, where trained community members take care of each other following principles of restorative justice, harm-reduction, consent, de-escalation and community repair; where we promote each other’s health and well-being instead of investing in racist, punitive systems of control; where our commitment to anti-racism and Black liberation extends beyond performative words and does the work of dismantling the structures of white supremacy on our campus and beyond.

You’ve encouraged us to “use [our] Middlebury education to challenge bigotry and hatred.” We utilize our education to understand the history of the United States through a decolonized and anti-racist framework. We acknowledge that the police force we have today began as the Slave Patrol in the South in 1704, and that we must remove an institution founded in such undeniable oppression and racism from our campus.

President Patton, we call our congressmen and senators. We are involved in local groups. We collaborate with members of our community to act against racism and take accountability for the work that needs to be done, “in our classrooms, in our living rooms, in our workplaces, in our communities.” We are now asking the same of you.

We ask you to transform rhetoric into action. We ask you to move beyond metaphors and do what we should have done years ago. We ask you to meet all demands of Concerned Students of Midd and the AAUP anti-racism working group, and to listen to the leadership of our BIPOC community members. We ask you to dismantle policing on campus and to help us build a community so strong that force and coercion are irrelevant. When you ask us “to circulate that air so all of us can breathe in it, and live,” we challenge you to mean it.

Thank you,

Middlebury Cops Off Campus

Read the complete letter, platform and signatory list for Middlebury Cops Off Campus here.