Dear Members of the Brown University Community,
Earlier this year, amid the ongoing national movement to confront racial injustice, I shared a series of actions that Brown will take as we continue to confront anti-Black racism and drive necessary change on and beyond Brown’s campus. One of these efforts involves assessing campus safety policies and practices in light of the critical national debate around policing. Today, I write with an update on these efforts and plans to work together as a campus to help Brown effect real change, and to invite you to a public meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 18 that will lay the groundwork for these efforts.
Beginning in the spring semester, we will convene a set of facilitated conversations to engage students, faculty and staff in identifying ways we can improve Brown’s approach to ensuring the safety and security of our community. The forum for these conversations will be the Brown University Community Council (BUCC). With its membership including students, faculty, staff, alumni, members of the Corporation of Brown University and members of the greater Providence community, the wide representation of the BUCC makes it uniquely suited to host the sustained and inclusive process necessary to arrive at the best campus safety model for Brown.
In addition to the breadth of its membership, the BUCC’s charge to serve as a venue for discussion and debate and to make recommendations on issues related to the overall welfare of the University, make the council well positioned to take up a matter of this importance. The public nature of BUCC meetings also supports transparency and broad campus engagement.
Among the questions that will be explored — and we expect our community to identify many others through next spring’s engagement process — are those anchored in how we distinguish between policing and ensuring safety and security. These include how we consider the disproportionate and different experiences with policing that members of our community have; determining in which offices various functions to support community safety and wellbeing should be situated and staffed at Brown; and how we consider the varying roles of event management and security staff, public safety officers and campus police officers in assessing possible models for safety and security. As we ask ourselves, “How can we do this better,” we are committed to ensuring that all members of our community always are treated justly and equitably.
We will establish a foundation for this process at the next public meeting of the BUCC on Nov. 18, where the community will receive an overview of Brown’s Department of Public Safety and its current model for promoting campus safety from Executive Vice President for Policy and Planning Russell Carey and Colonel Mark Porter, Executive Director and Chief of Public Safety.
The University recently completed a separate and previously scheduled external review of DPS, which was led over the spring and summer by Margolis Healy, a nationally recognized campus safety and security consulting firm. The review was launched prior to the horrific violence that spurred national conversation on the relationship between police departments and communities of color, in particular Black communities. And while that review focused on DPS’s internal operations and organizational structure, we recognize the importance of also addressing broader questions about campus safety in ways that are responsive to the needs and concerns of our community.
Some members of the Brown community already have contributed concerns and insights to the important campus safety issue, and we won’t wait until the launch of the spring engagement process to act on some of this input. At the Nov. 18 meeting, Vice President for Campus Life Eric Estes will provide an update on some requested changes to policies and practices involving support for students.
I encourage all interested members of the Brown community to attend the meeting, which will provide a baseline for future focus groups and discussions that will follow in the spring semester. It is important that we continue to gather perspectives from diverse constituencies in the months ahead, and I hope that many members of our community will contribute to the process. The current schedule of BUCC meetings is posted on the council website.
I invite faculty, staff and students to approach the discussions with a willingness to engage in candid and potentially difficult conversations with others who may have vastly different experiences with issues of security and policing. I look forward to the work we’ll do together to be a campus where all members of our community feel secure and safe.
Christina H. Paxson