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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Campus

African American fraternities make half of Greek life’s police requests


Juana Garcia/The Cougar

Juana Garcia/The Cougar

Half of all requests for police presence at Greek life events on campus in the 2019-2020 academic year were filed by historically African American fraternities, according to records acquired from UHPD. 

Out of four special event personnel requests submitted to the University’s Department of Public Safety by Greek organizations, two were sent in by historically African American fraternities. 

The presence of at least one police officer at a student organization event held on campus may be required by the University, depending on the complexity and size of the gathering among other factors, said UH spokesperson Mike Rosen. 

“The decisions that are made are based on ensuring safety at each event as well as the safety of the surrounding University community,” Rosen said. 

The mandatory presence of police officers at student organization events can come with a monetary and psychological price tag. 

The cost of having the required number of police officers at a student organization event varies based on the number of personnel needed, the event’s size and its duration.

The requesting entity is responsible for covering the cost of having UHDPS personnel present at their event, according to the Manual of Administrative Policies and Procedures.  

For students of color, the appearance of police officers at student organization events can be a stressful experience. 

“Because of the climate we’re in, when people see policemen it can be somewhat triggering,” said Black Student Union president John Sowell.

Sowell, who also serves as the recording secretary on the National Pan-Hellenic Council board, worked as a reviewer for a recent petition published by the organization calling for an end to the policing of Black student organization events. 

The National Pan-Hellenic Council, a collaborative organization of nine historically African American fraternities and sororities, issued a statement on June 4 regarding their concerns surrounding police presence at Black student organization events. 

“Speaking from our collective personal experiences, attending events hosted by Black student organizations means walking on eggshells in order to not risk any intervention by police,” the petition states. 

“We anticipate the immediate shut down of our events, even at the slightest disruption of peace. We anticipate the immediate shutdown of our events if there are too many Black students in one space,” the petition continues. 

The statement requests the amendment of Article 6 of the University’s Registered Student Organization Indoor Event Policy, which gives UHPD the authority to end student organization events.

It asks to remove the requirement for UHPD presence at NPHC events on the grounds that police presence at their gatherings fosters an environment of distrust and fear. 

The shutdown of student organization events is an infrequent occurrence caused by unforeseen circumstances, according to Rosen. 

“On the rare occasion UHPD would consider ending an event, it is usually due to unexpectedly large crowds or a fight that breaks out that overwhelms our ability to maintain a safe environment with the number of officers assigned or available,” Rosen said. 

University changes

In an effort to bring meaningful change to race relations on campus, UH President Renu Khator created the Race Relations and Social Justice Work Group.

The group’s creation comes amid ongoing nationwide discussions regarding race and criminal justice issues, as well as continuing Black Lives Matter protests. 

The collective made of faculty, staff and students will aim to facilitate the University population’s understanding of racism, its systemic roots and how to address these issues in a substantive manner.

Khator has yet to announce what concrete steps the work group will undertake to achieve these objectives. 

“At the direction of President Khator, the University has begun to host regular dialogues and re-examine how we can improve the way we engage with our community at all levels, including policing,” Rosen said.

“The University takes very seriously the issues of race and equality and the desire for change is understandable,” Rosen added.

Each UHPD officer receives cultural diversity training and deescalation training when they join the department.

At the end of June, officers were assigned an additional four-course training enhancement designed by a deescalation specialist based on recent nationwide clashes between the police and the public.  

The courses covered community policing strategies, constitutional and community policing, a cultural awareness and diversity overview and information on deescalation and minimizing the use of force. 

In addition to the training, chief of UHPD Ceasar Moore, Jr. has begun regular meetings with fellow Houston area higher education police chiefs in an effort to elevate training standards for all participating departments, Rosen said. 

Looking ahead

The Black Student Union began working with UHPD to address student concerns regarding policing on campus in June.

BSU vice president Brian Kirksey met with representatives from UHPD and the Student Government Association to discuss topics raised in student petitions, including the statement released by NPHC.

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