MassArt won’t vote on arming their officers. And some within the college’s community have had enough.
A group of MassArt students and alumni has responded to a decision by the school’s board of trustees to again postpone a vote on whether to arm campus officers. The meeting was scheduled to take place Nov 27, and has since been postponed to February.
“They’ve been postponing it for a year—they keep saying they don’t have enough information,” said Stephanie Houten, a MassArt alumni. “This is a tactic of theirs to burn us out.”
Houten is part of a group of MassArt organizers fighting to keep guns off of campus. While administrators say that potentially arming the force is an effort to improve safety on campus, not everybody is convinced.
Students who are part of MassArt’s POC community have especially expressed fears over the potential repercussions of arming MassArt police, citing experiences of being racially profiled as well as microaggressions as reasons that board members ought to vote against the measure. They also note a lack of de-escalation training on campus.
MassArt alumni Jordan Holmes recalls an experience in which someone called police on him for participating during a MassArt lecture series.
“I ask this question calmly and articulately, and I guess they hear belligerent, angry, black man. They ran to go get help,” Holmes said. “If there’s this much bias, and if people are that happy to call, and then what does that say?”
Faculty members seem no more immune to these types of incidents than their student counterparts. Professor Juan Ormaza recounted an experience where he was questioned and followed by police for looking into a window on campus. He attended a forum that was held to discuss the arming of cops on campus, but says that when he tried to share his experience, the board shut him down, saying that the meeting was for students only—even though a flyer advertised the meeting as a space for the entire MassArt community. He feels this silencing was an intentional effort to dismiss the relevance of his experience with campus police.
“We are teaching students they have to be afraid all the time. I don’t think arming solves the problem. I want to make [the school] see the root of the problem. I think they’re crazy to teach contemporary art and not contemporary life,” Ornaza said. “They’re not ignoring it, but it is ignorance. And they say they want to have more people of color in the school, which is a terrible contradiction.”
A report was released in January of this year by the Campus Safety Work Group, which included a recommendation to arm officers plus provide bias and active shooter training. Said recommendation acknowledged that students are bothered by the listed reasons to arm, which seem to be from the perspective of the officers, as well as for the convenience of the administration. Such factors include MassArt’s apparent inability to retain officers, the cost of training new officers, and the statements of officers who have resigned.
In response to a request for comment, Pamela Parisis, chair of the school’s board of trustees, released a statement: “At MassArt, we have been working on improving our campus safety over time and through many different measures. The next measure we’re considering is whether or not to arm the College’s trained police officers. We have conducted extensive research and consulted national experts in college campus safety, and held multiple open forums and surveys to gather input from students, faculty and staff.”
“Instead of making a student feel secure in their environment, they prioritize making the officer feel secure and safe in the environment, and even if it’s at the expense of the student’s security or feelings of security,” said MassArt student Camila Bohan-Insaurralde. “What does that say about the students at MassArt? Does it say we do not have a voice at the school we’re attending and where we’re learning from?
“If you disagree with something, it didn’t matter.”
Do you want help with our investigation into guns in Mass?
- WHAT: Are you interested in doing serious journalism? Want to work with our team? Come join BINJ, MuckRock, and the Emerson Engagement Lab at this open newsroom to help us dig through public records related to police militarization and gun sales in Mass.
- WHEN: Monday, December 10, 5 – 8pm
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*Laptop or smartphone not required but could come in handy. Session will feature introduction and instruction plus hands-on research in which attendees can contribute to our ongoing investigation into firearm sales in the Commonwealth.