As students across the country head back to their campuses this month, many parents will attempt to ensure the safety of their children by paying the absurdly high costs of campus housing. Campus housing seems safer than student ghettos and campus buildings even more so. The gown over the town.
But campuses are increasingly becoming unsafe–not because of a lack of security but an overabundance of it. Amnesty International and the United Nations have declared tasers to be torture devices, but if a student insists on taking the podium and asking more questions than allotted during a public talk, chances are that he will be subdued by a number of officers and then tasered by the campus police.
As University of Florida’s Andrew Meyer’s “don’t tase me bro” became a
household phrase in 2007, people discovered several other unwarranted incidents of tasering on campuses including UCLA library. In March 2010, campus police at the University of Florida, responding to a 911 call from a neighbor who heard screaming next door, broke into Kofi Adu-Brempong’s campus housing apartment. Despite his assurances that he was okay, police forcibly entered his apartment and within seven seconds shot the disabled man in the face. In another tragic incident on August 6, 2011, campus police at the University of Cincinnati, again responding to a 911 call reporting unrest, tasered the eighteen year old, college-bound Everette Howard because he continued moving forward when asked to stop. Howard, who had been attending a college preparatory program at the University, died shortly after being tasered.
The justification for heavily armed campus police and SWAT-like units on campus is Virginia Tech, where in 2007, a mentally disturbed Seung-Hui Cho went on a shooting rampage. Margolis and Healy, the consulting firm hired by Virginia tech to ensure security on campus, now uses that experience as a benchmark when dealing with violence on campus and refers its clients to the two major publications by its team members: The Handbook for Campus Threat Assessment and Management Teams and Implementing Behavioral Threat Assessment on Campus: A Virginia Tech Demonstration Project. It was the consulting firm used by the University of Florida after the shooting of Adu-Brempong. There was nothing particularly insidious in some of the recommendations made by Margolis and Healy to the University of Florida: to better coordinate its efforts, to consider involuntary counseling, and to use a behavior threat assessment model.
The widespread use of firms like Margolis and Healy by campuses, however, reflects an alarming national trend, particularly since 9/11, to constantly prepare tactics for dealing with the threat of unpredictable violence, aka “terror.” The consequences of wanting heightened apparatuses of security on the national level have been well documented: racial profiling; unwarranted detentions; wiretapping; color-coded airport alerts designed to foster insecurity; and of course a strong-armed Department of Homeland Security. Campuses too reflect this national fixation with terror and security. The focus is on the threat posed by an active shooter or someone on campus liable to cause harm while the threat posed to the campus community by heavily armed police goes unnoticed. The absurdity of this position is evident when we are faced with the effects of excessive use of force.
Lest it might seem that the connection between governmental and campus apparatuses of security is far fetched, we might consider the credentials of members of Margolis and Healy, touted by the firm itself. Dr Gary Margolis, former Chief of Police at the University of Vermont, traveled to Israel in 2008 “as an invited guest of the Israeli Government to study terrorism and share his expertise with the Israel National Police and Israel Defense Forces;” Steven Healy, former Security Police Officer in the US Air Force, and named one of the Top 25 Most Influential People in the Security Industry; and Dr Randazzo, “an international expert on threat assessment” who served ten years with the U.S. Secret Service.
That campuses were seen as threats to national security was clear in the vituperative rhetoric spewn by the likes of Lynne Cheney, David Horowitz, and Daniel Pipes; that campuses are increasingly becoming labs for fighting wars on terror is now becoming evident.
Malini Johar Schueller is Professor of English at the University of Florida. She is the author most recently of Locating Race: Global Sites of Post-Colonial Citizenship and co-editor of Dangerous Professors: Academic Freedom and the National Security Campus.