Opinion | Campus policing: the work isn’t done

Student opinion on campus policing deserves to be heard, and the Board of Regents have refused to listen.


Grace Smith

The University of Iowa Police Station is seen on Monday, Feb. 15, 2021.

Yasmina Sahir, Opinions Columnist

Nationwide police violence continues to happen, and yet it seems local attention has waned on abolition efforts.

The University of Iowa’s claims of commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion practices need to be supported by action. Without this, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion rhetoric is simply an institutional tool. As a member of Cops Off Campus Iowa, I cannot envision a world in which policing and campus DEI goals can coexist.

According to The Washington Post, 853 people were shot and killed by police in 2021. The rate of police shootings was more than twice as high for Black people than for white people. The same article goes on to state the average number of police shootings in the U.S. has remained at an average of 1,000 per year since their online database started in 2015.

Racial justice has been a widely discussed topic on campus since the summer of 2020. In June 2020, UI students petitioned for the university to cut ties with local law enforcement partners.

The petition grew to over 10,000 signatures. Yet, ties with law enforcement agencies — both on and off campus — remain a fixture for the UI.

The same summer, UI administration responded to demands for abolition through the formation of The Reimagining Campus Safety Action Committee (RCSAC). A full explanation of the group’s members, procedures and goals can be found here on their website.

RSCAC was primarily tasked with reviewing survey data before offering recommendations on campus policing budget and practices. Data showed in their 2020-2021 survey results that the UI Police Department (UIPD) creates negative feelings on campus for students who belong to marginalized populations.

This effect — intended or not — directly conflicts with the UI’s DEI goals and overall comfort on campus for students. Of particular interest is the UI’s explanation of equity as “just practices and policies that ensure all campus community members can thrive,” as well as their understanding that “being equitable means acknowledging and addressing structural inequalities — historical and current — that advantage some and disadvantage others”.

The RCSAC’s 2020-2021 academic year survey received 306 responses across students, alumni, and faculty/staff. Respondents were asked about their perceptions of safety on campus. To collect this data, respondents were asked to consider if they 1) highly disagreed to 5) strongly agreed with a series of statements.

Most student respondents (undergraduate, graduate, and professional) voted in favor of defunding UIPD. When responses from student populations are exclusively considered, the average student was 4.56 out of 5 in favor of defunding UIPD.

Why should the UI and the Board of Regents consider the student opinion over other groups identified in this survey? Because consideration of their collective opinion in school policy decisions is guaranteed by the UI Student Bill of Rights, a list of 13 protections given to students by UI.

The Student Bill of Rights includes “the right to have clearly defined means to participate in the formulation and application of institutional policy affecting both academic and nonacademic student affairs. The student’s participation shall include the right to gain access to information, to express views, and to have these views considered.”

Although students were given the opportunity to express their opinions to members of RCSAC in the survey, all meetings were private and official survey data was not released for public review until after the team’s final recommendations were finalized.

There is no way to guarantee the Board of Regents seriously considered the majority student opinion to defund UIPD, especially because Board of Regents’ policy says abolition is not an option. Regent’s policy number 4.13.D.v. reads: “[e]ach university shall maintain appropriately trained public safety personnel on campus that includes police officers as well as security personnel.”

As the UI continues to prioritize free speech, I wonder what precedents have been set by the Board of Regents’ refusal to seriously consider the majority student opinion in favor of abolition.

As a student, I want to ensure my opinion matters to university actors. More importantly, as a person of color, I want to know I am proactively protected from systemic violence on campus.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.