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Swastika at SLU sows distrust between students and DPS

“A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.”  -The Dalai Lama. When I first toured Saint Louis University’s campus almost three years ago, my parents and I were both concerned for my safety as a student on an “urban” campus.  We were quickly comforted when student tour guides and faculty members alike repeatedly praised SLU’s Department of Public Safety (DPS), the largest regional licensed security officers in the city of St. Louis.

Since Wednesday, April 23, 2014, at approximately 2:00 a.m., I have begun to wonder how much of a façade contributes to SLU’s perceived sense of safety.  While I was not a victim of a personal or property crime on campus, I witnessed a bias incident, a hate crime, and I watched, horrified, as DPS officers wrote it off as a “prank” by “some kids.” According to the email sent to all SLU students, faculty and staff, “imagery depicting [an] offensive symbol regarding national origin/religion [was] discovered outside of [a] residence hall.”  According to me, a witness, a swastika constructed of candles was burning outside of Marguerite Hall.

According to Saint Louis University Division of Student Development’s Hate Crime and Bias-Related Incident Protocol found on SLU’s website, “the goal of this protocol is to: (i) address acts of hate, bias or other acts of intolerance that impact members of our University community, (ii) appropriately inform that community about such incidents and (iii) take appropriate actions to demonstrate that Saint Louis University will not tolerate incidents of hate, bias or other acts of intolerance.”

On Wednesday morning, I was present as DPS officers failed to address the act of hate, bias and intolerance adequately, failed to appropriately inform the SLU community about it and failed to take the necessary actions to demonstrate that SLU will not tolerate such incidents.  Instead of immediately recognizing that the swastika was a serious situation with enormous implications for many members of the SLU community, the DPS officers handled the situation imprudently and insinuated that the three students who reported the crime were oversensitive and idealistic.  Furthermore, the only attempt to inform the SLU community was a brief and extremely vague sentence that was added to the ongoing Student Incident Log.  To view this report, one must open the “Update to Incident Report Log” email from the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, click on the link provided, enter one’s SLU Banner ID and password, and scroll to the latest report.  Because of this excessive process, many students, faculty and staff never access the available information about the reported bias incident.  By expressing their belief that the incident was “just kids being kids” or “a prank,” the DPS officers condoned the students’ behavior and ultimately allowed for the continuation of bias incidents on SLU’s campus.

Because the University has a vested interest in maintaining the image of a safe campus and because DPS is employed by the University, bias incidents that get reported to DPS are often concealed from the majority of members of the University community.

As students, it is time that we stand up against the acceptance of bias and injustice as the status quo on campus.  It is time that we urge University administrators and staff to adhere to the protocols that have been established.

It is time that we call for more transparency during the process of reporting and investigating bias incidents.  It is time to reclaim our beloved Saint Louis University so that every member of our community feels safe and celebrated, regardless of their race, religion, class, gender identity, sexual orientation or political affiliation.

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