Officers from the Lafayette and Purdue police departments and the vice provost for diversity and inclusion addressed issues such as police relationship with the Black community and campus climate in a meeting Wednesday with various Purdue diversity professionals.
Vice provost John Gates and the officers discussed how police can encourage reassurance rather than fear in the Purdue community.
“As police officers, we want to be there to provide stability, but we aren’t a part of the story,” said Tom McKee, an Indiana State Police commander. “We want the story to be taking bad guys off the streets, not a part of the controversy.”
Participants also discussed positive police involvement in the community, and students asked how departments address their histories and how officers are trained.
Carolyn Johnson, associate vice provost for diversity and inclusion, discussed commonalities between police and the Black community.
“For many African-Americans and police, if we have a bad actor, we tend to get defined by the bad actor, not the good things we all do,” Johnson said. “We know that relationship because that happens to us.”
But Anwer argued these biases are not equal.
“While there might be illegitimate and legitimate biases, those biases don’t apply in the same way because one group holds power over the other group,” she said. “We must be very careful when addressing these biases. Because power lies in a majority way on one side, the heavy burden of dampening the fear lies on the police. The police have to do the majority of the work to build that bridge.”
Latino Cultural Center Director Carina Olaru referenced in her discussion of bias LPD’s recent hiring of Joseph Zacharek, who was fired after the LPD discovered he participated in a neo-Nazi messaging board known as Iron March in 2016.
“Someone who had affiliations with neo-Nazis was hired into the police,” Olaru said. “Those biases are rooted in past experience.”
Rachel Brooks, the director of diversity and inclusion initiatives in the College of Liberal Arts, shared a similar skepticism of working with the police.
“For me, this conversation is internal, in where I want to build these relationships, but I have the same fears that my African-American students do,” Brooks said. “The fears, for me, are really about being a target of unconscious bias.”
Gates further questioned shared understanding of perceptions and fear, as well as the disproportionate numbers of people of color arrested. He added the University’s Equity Task Force will address these issues in a later meeting.
“What accountability measures do we have?” Gates asked, challenging those in the meeting to reflect. “We look once, but we must look continuously at what we’re seeking to do.”
Megha Anwer, the Honors College director of diversity, inclusion and equity, said Purdue can work on establishing accountability by thinking of itself as an institution.
“How does Purdue as an institution look at itself and offset the ways it may have been complicit, in ways, in inequitable power?” she said.