Note: The following post is by a concerned SLU student.
A recent Saving SLU post inquiring if the bias incident protocols for Saint Louis University are working is the impetus for this student to share concerns about an incident which should have been investigated as a bias occurrence but never made the bias incident log, and to inquire why it didn’t.
The May 23, 2021 post notes that the “protocol” for responding to reported bias incidents includes the following: “Take appropriate actions to demonstrate that SLU fosters a community of inclusivity and commits itself as an educational institution to address incidents of hate, bias, or other acts of intolerance.” What is happening with incidents that do not follow the bias protocols because they are not allowed to be investigated due to not being properly reported? Who is responsible for making sure the protocols are being followed? Who is responsible for holding those parties accountable who do not follow SLU’s policy, which states that “Saint Louis University considers acts of hate and bias unacceptable and antithetical to its commitment to an inclusive learning community that respects the fundamental dignity of all human beings?”
SLU has designated the Director of the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity to oversee all reports of bias-related behaviors and harassment at the university. The university further defines a bias-related incident as being “experienced by its impact, not its intent.” Bias-related incidents include “any act that may intimidate, mock, degrade, or threaten a member or group or property based upon real or perceived consideration of sex, race, color, military status, veteran’s status.” While there are other protected classifications noted, I point to these, as they relate to an incident involving a twenty-plus-year employee with custodial services and a confrontation they had to endure at the hands of those who are charged with protecting our community: Public Safety.
In late 2020, the custodian, who identifies as a member of the Black and Brown community, chose to use the women’s restroom in Wool Center on her way home. She saw another (white) female in the restroom when she entered. Shortly thereafter, the custodian employee was shocked when a white, male Public Safety employee in full uniform suddenly threw open the women’s bathroom door to enter. The Public Safety employee reportedly directed the custodian to leave the bathroom immediately, as she was not authorized to be there. The custodian was told she was not allowed to be there because she was “homeless” and is not allowed on SLU’s campus, as it’s private property. The custodian assured the Public Safety employee she was allowed on campus, as she was an employee, holding out her lanyard with her SLU identification, which was hanging from her neck.
The custodian was stunned about how she was approached and believed her experience was because of her race and color. The custodian was ultimately told by the male Public Safety employee that the female she saw upon entry to the restroom was the one who advised him there was a “homeless” person in the bathroom. Ultimately, the male employee reportedly apologized and advised the custodian that the determination by the other employee may have been due to the camouflage coat the custodian was wearing, because that is what homeless people wear.
The custodian left humiliated, with her anger and frustration growing throughout the evening about how she was treated on a campus where she has been working on for over two decades. She was distraught as she reflected on how she wanted to respond, which could have been met with adverse reactions by the armed Public Safety employee. She was hurt in being told she looked “homeless.” She was disturbed to think a Public Safety officer would treat anyone that way, including a homeless person, and fail to consider that a camouflage coat could be worn by an active military member or veteran.
The custodian reported the incident to Public Safety officers the next day. She was taken to the same building (Wool Center) where she was confronted to meet with a supervisor and ultimately a manager in Public Safety. She was advised it would be investigated and would hear back from them soon. Three weeks later, the custodian was contacted to meet with a faction of Public Safety employees, where she received an “apology” for a “misunderstanding.” She also had to endure reportedly hearing that the female in the bathroom who summoned the Public Safety officer stated she “had done nothing wrong.”
The custodian reported how she no longer feels safe on campus, for the first time in her career. She noted how there are memorials and signage across campus which reference statements like “Black Lives Matter,” yet she questions the validity of this when it comes to how Public Safety officers see her and how those who look like her are treated.
This incident raises a number of important questions:
- Why is this incident not on the university’s bias log?
- Did Public Safety simply keep it in house, so as not to be held accountable for the actions of its employees?
- Why is this armed Public Safety employee so confident in his decision to burst into a female’s restroom to intimidate a female—who had every right to be there, homeless or not—yet he is not confident enough to come forward and explain himself without a complaint having to be filed?
- What happened to the Public Safety employees involved in this incident?
- Is the university protecting a culture of bias in the Public Safety department?
- Is the halfhearted attempt at an apology for a “misunderstanding” acceptable?
- What other incidents involving Public Safety employees are being kept under wraps?
- Are there concerns that if they examine this incident—which was not shared via the proper university procedures and made accessible to the university community—they will be forced to examine the validity of their past actions and admit to other indiscretions?
- Public Safety is considered one of the “University Reporting Contacts” for bias-related incidents; can they ignore following the protocol of immediately reporting an incident to the university’s Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity?
- Did Pubic Safety share with the custodian her rights to report the incident to the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity and offer support services?
I am moved to share this story, as it is written on the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd. Has our community not learned any lessons from that incident and the many other injustices we have witnesses against the Black and Brown communities over the last year? How long will we continue to allow these types of incidents on our campus without holding those involved accountable? While recent information shared by Dr. Fred Pestello that “essential employees” will receive monetary gifts for their service is a nice gesture, until the day-to-day biased actions these essential employees have to endure at the hands of other university employees are interrupted and addressed, the university’s rhetoric is inconsistent with its practice.
Our university community deserves better. Justice will not be served until those people who are charged with keeping our community safe and in leadership positions are held accountable for their actions. It is the expected standard of the university community, which claims to “respects the fundamental dignity of all human beings.”