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Saturday November 27th

How a UNC Police tweet highlighted a gap between UNC leaders and its students

A UNC Chapel Hill police car parked on campus on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020.
Buy Photos A UNC Chapel Hill police car parked on campus on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article contained a photo that may have suggested that a Davis Library security guard was involved in this narrative. The photo on this article has been updated to more accurately reflect the parties involved in this story. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.


A July 31 tweet from UNC Police about officer presence during move-in fueled responses from student leaders and community members, who were angered that police would be near campus dorms this week.

The UNC Police post said officers would be near dorms as part of “Welcome Home Well” to help students and their families during move-in. The original tweet has over 100 retweets with comments, most of them criticizing police presence outside dorms with phrases like “read the room.” 

The post from UNC Police comes after protests against police brutality have continued across the state and country, including at UNC, in the wake of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of white police officers on May 25. One protest on June 3 drew hundreds to McCorkle Place on UNC’s campus.

Wednesday morning, members of UNC Black Congress held a demonstration on campus addressing the presence of police and the University’s response to the concerns of students and activists.

“Let us make one thing very clear,” a demonstrator said. “We see what UNC is trying to do in their attempt to rebrand UNCPD and shove them down our faces in order to evade being called out for the blood on their hands, for the damage they have done, for the lives they have ruined.”

Here’s what happened during this three-day period of email exchanges, spontaneous meetings and public statements — all in response to one tweet from UNC Police. 



Sunday

In response to the UNC Police tweet, student leaders and organizations signed a statement demanding administration reverse the decision for campus police presence during move-in. The letter was sent to University leaders at 12:30 p.m. on Aug. 2, and signatories included Residence Hall Association President Kira Griffith, Black Student Movement President Tamiya Troy, Undergraduate Student Body President Reeves Moseley and 23 other UNC student leaders. 

Fourteen organizations and committees were represented in the letter, including the Graduate and Professional Student Federation, the Commission on Campus Equality and Student Equity and the Carolina Union Board of Directors.


The letter cited the Carolina Housing mission statement, which states that it works to provide safe, inclusive and supportive housing.

“Allowing UNCPD to be present at residence hall entrances is in direct opposition to this goal as many students and families will not be comfortable or feel 'welcomed' in this setting,” the letter stated.

The statement cited the psychological effects that the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black individuals have had on the Black community. Signatories also emphasized that the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized racial groups experience harmful encounters with police.

“Police presence does not foster a sense of safety nor a feeling of comfort,” the letter stated, addressing UNC’s student body, particularly Black students.

A few hours after the statement was posted on social media, UNC Police tweeted a quotation from Chief of Police David Perry about the progress of his department in the past year and rebuilding trust with the community.



“Know that we will continue our work to make the campus an inviting place for students of color & to renew the confidence and belief in our officers,” Perry stated.

Student leaders gave University administration a deadline of 9 p.m. on Aug. 2 — the same day the letter was sent. Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz responded at 9:57 p.m., in an email obtained by The Daily Tar Heel that was only sent to Griffith, out of the 26 total signatories.

“I value the opinions of you and other student leaders on this issue,” Guskiewicz wrote. “However, after reading your letter and discussing it with others who received it, I believe there may be a misunderstanding of the role our police officers are playing in welcoming our students (and their parents) and our employees back to campus.”

According to Guskiewicz’s email, UNC Police have always assisted during the move-in process. He requested to hear specific instances during move-in that have created problems for students and parents. Guskiewicz also requested a meeting between some of his leadership team and members of student government to understand the concerns about police presence during move-in and “address them as necessary.”

At 11:18 p.m., Griffith responded to Guskiewicz, copying three other student leaders on the email. “My peers and I share disappointment, though, that all the signatories were not copied in a response by 9pm,” Griffith wrote. She said the students were ready to meet at 10 a.m. the next day, Aug. 3.

Monday

The next morning, without a meeting scheduled beforehand, Griffith went to Guskiewicz’s office to speak with him. She felt this would be more effective than email communication.

“I was worried that the entire move-in process would be completed before any of our concerns were received and acted on,” Griffith said.

Later on Aug. 3, Griffith said Guskiewicz met with Perry, Carolina Housing Executive Director Allan Blattner and other senior University leaders to discuss UNC Police’s plan for move-in. 

At 7:17 p.m., Griffith sent an email to student leaders, many of whom signed the Aug. 2 statement to administration, explaining Perry’s revised plan. Griffith’s email stated the following changes:

  • Reducing police officer primary assignment in residence halls and limiting work to what they have done in previous years, such as assisting with directing traffic, parking and moving in heavy items.
  • Minimizing placement of officers around campus.
  • Caroling Housing staff will be responsible for enforcing community standards, not campus police.

Move-in for students began on Monday. UNC Police Media Relations Manager Randy Young said in a statement that the campus police department “encourages the community to provide any feedback  or concerns  regarding specific instances where UNC Police interactions were considered inappropriate  or unwelcoming.”

Though the revised plan did not meet the exact demands in the Aug. 2 statement, Griffith said it was a “step in the right direction.”

“I felt the frustration of a lot of student leaders that we didn't necessarily get what we wanted, but I was happy that steps were made in the right direction,” Griffith said. “We'll wait to see what happens over the next few days of move-in, but I do think it was a positive step for the administration.”

But other student leaders, including many who signed the first statement, issued another response to administration about the revised plan. This second statement, which was sent on Aug. 4, compared the student demands — having no police present during move-in — to the University’s response — revising the plan so that UNC Police would be a background presence near dorms.

Tuesday

Twenty-five student leaders signed the statement, which was again addressed to University administration.

“The administration’s response to our letter was inadequate and unacceptable,” the statement said.

The statement cited that Guskiewicz’s response was only sent to Griffith, and that the Aug. 2 deadline of 9 p.m. was not met. The statement issued four new demands:

  • Establishment of an Ad Hoc Committee assembled by the Commission on Campus Equality and Student Equity to advise the chancellor on policy, with respect to equity.
  • Inclusion of the Ad Hoc Committee in all decision-making processes of the University.
  • Open communication between University leaders and concerned individuals, without fragmentation.
  • University leaders release a public commitment to no police presence during future move-in periods, as well as little to no UNC Police and Chapel Hill Police presence on campus.

The deadline for a response from the University was 5 p.m. Tuesday. Signatories also requested a meeting with administration prior to the first day of classes on Aug. 10. 

So far, the University has not responded.

Griffith did not sign this second statement. RHA released its own a statement Wednesday about its stance on police presence during move-in, referencing Perry’s revised plan and writing that “RHA is content with this resolution as we feel that our mission has been largely accomplished in the best possible compromise given the situation at hand.”

In a statement to the DTH via UNC Media Relations, Blattner said UNC Police is one of the many departments Carolina Housing works with “to make sure move-in goes smoothly.” He said campus police help students and families through answering questions and navigating campus during move-in.

“We’ve heard the concerns of student organizations and groups, and we are working with University leaders to address them,” Blattner stated.

Guskiewicz’s Chief of Staff Amy Hertel responded around 10 p.m. on Aug. 4 via email — five hours after the deadline issued in the statement. 

According to the email, since the Aug. 2 statement, Guskiewicz had met with Perry, Vice Chancellor for Institutional Integrity and Risk Management George Battle and Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Safety and Risk Management Derek Kemp, as well as Griffith, Moseley and Graduate and Professional Student Federation President Ryan Collins.

According to Hertel, Guskiewicz confirmed UNC Police officers have always had a presence during fall move-in.

“This year the police planned to serve the added purpose of providing no-cost masks to individuals without proper community protective equipment, especially given that masks are now required inside all University buildings,” Hertel said in the email. “This added task is not meant as a measure of enforcement, but as a community service.”

As of Tuesday night, more than 2,500 students had moved in and feedback from parents and students had been "very positive,” according to Hertel. She also shared resources for anonymous reporting and campus safety concerns, and suggested other leadership members to meet with.

“Please give us a chance. We are listening to you and your voices have been heard. As mentioned above, the Chancellor has acted quickly to engage leaders of campus safety,” Hertel wrote. “I am confident that we are all working toward a safe and successful semester.”

Lamar Richards, chairperson of the Commission on Campus Equality and Student Equity, signed both statements demanding more adequate responses from UNC administration. He said speaking out against police presence like this is necessary for a university that aims to improve equity and inclusion.

“The over-policing of our Black and brown students has to quit because it furthers the agenda of a university we say we don't have anymore,” Richards said. “By over-policing Black and brown students, that furthers the agenda of a Carolina that does not exist anymore.”

@praveenavsoma

university@dailytarheel.com

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