PS: Transparency is a Two-Way Street

Transparency is a bit of an issue on this campus. Will Public Safety officers, now that they will soon have the power to arrest and detain students, act like Cinderella’s mean stepsisters, knowing the parent administration will keep anything unsavory under wraps and as such unaccounted for? Only time will tell. But there will be a battle—it can be counted on. The problem is that we are college students, at once without a fairy godparent to protect us, and with the intelligence and lifelong education to ‘stand up for ourselves.’

That’s why things get uproarious, like they did this week, when zealous members of the campus fully exposed the new initiative to grant all Public Safety officers Maryland Police commissions, giving them the ability, if they so choose, to  arrest and detain students. Calvert Hall put in motion a seemingly fundamental change to the student-administration relationship without so much as an open forum or all-campus email.

For a small group of observant students the muted publicity seemed almost as shady as the policy itself, but awareness and the coterie of observers exploded Tuesday afternoon when Maurielle Stewart, the College’s student trustee, posted on her Facebook page about the issue, and the blog SMCMLOL scooped the story later that night. Online and on the path, students’ newsy responses anecdotally seemed negative, often angry.

And why shouldn’t they be? Remarking on PS officers soon-to-be-had ability to arrest students, I posted “this should terrify you” with a The Point News story linked as my Facebook status. The story was printed a few days earlier, on the inside, which didn’t help things.

The relationship between campus cops and students at this college, and probably most, is already adversarial. One member of the informal commentariat even satirized the campus’ reputation for civility, saying” “Anyway’s, here’s to St. Mary’s becoming a police state. That’s ‘the St. Mary’s Way’, right?”

The reality, after a bit of engaged reporting—the kind every student should do—is that little is likely to change anytime soon, and things surely are not taking a turn for the totalitarian. I called up Dean Bayless and asked some questions, feeling concerned and livid about the policy I thought could ‘ruin lives, as one student put it. She assured me that arrests rarely ever happen on campus, that the Sheriff’s Office would likely continue to be involved in any that do occur, and that the whole affair is mostly about officers’ safety. Dave Zylak, PS director, said the arrest capability would seldom be used on students, and that it was mostly a precaution for non-student visitors and trespassers on the campus. Unless arrested, students will still be free to leave when being interviewed by an officer. Apparently, many more PS officers had police commissions in years past, but for reasons unknown, they were allowed to expire.

Yes, Public Safety officers having the ability to take students ‘to the station’ is still a little disquieting; the administration assures us PS won’t be packing heat (they really won’t) and that it’s about their safety. Sketchy sketchy, but not altogether terrifying once we know learn a little more.

Nevertheless, the problem, and the reason we have perennial student melees, is in the way that change happens on campus and the way it gets communicated. Students need to have more input in policy shifts, especially those regarding Public Safety (and Judicial Affairs) so they don’t self-perpetuate the cycle of social media freak-out and rumor-milling that can sour our associations with the administration and make us look like a gaggle of unyielding protestors. And when something does happen at a high level, it absolutely needs to be released in an all-campus email. If the specific policy in question does indeed go in to effect, To The Point needs immediate revision beforehand to reflect what may be large, but not fundamental, changes in the rights of both Public Safety officers and students—this is obvious.(For god sakes, the Clery Act webpage needs to be updated.)

If they would let us students in on the party—not during dry orientation, of course—then we could give integral contributions and avoid the blow-up that this affair is about to become (especially since certain clubs and organizations will probably start organizing soon). The Open Hour is a good start, but specifically, students need better and broader institutionalized avenues to realized input and high-level dialogues with the administration. Would more campus referendums be such a ridiculous idea? Perhaps most importantly, students really do need to get involved in their own right, instead of just treating their fellow rabble-raisers’ concerns as piffle (remember those latent Chick-Fil-A apologists). Calling the Dean might not be a first step, but it is a good one. We live on a small campus, and if you look really hard, you might be able to see everything.

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