University seeks student input on campus security

By EMILY MCDONALD | September 27, 2018

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FILE PHOTO The committee would be comprised of 10 students and advise the Vice President for Security

The University announced the creation of the new Student Advisory Committee for Security (SACS) in an email to the student body on Sept. 21. The Committee will be comprised of 10 representatives from designated student groups at the different Hopkins campuses, as well as five at-large members who can apply to the position. 

Students in this Committee will advise Vice President for Security Melissa Hyatt on a number of security issues. They will meet with Hyatt and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger each month to provide feedback, suggestions and concerns. Committee members will serve one-year terms and can then be reappointed.

In an email to The News-Letter, Hyatt explained her decision to create SACS. She hopes that the Committee will allow students to provide input on security matters.

“One of my first goals upon arriving at Johns Hopkins was to create a means of open dialogue between myself and the student body,” she wrote. “In my career with the Baltimore Police Department, I found that the use of advisory committees was very successful as a way to learn and better understand the thoughts and ideas of larger groups of stakeholders.”

According to the Campus Safety and Security website, the Committee will focus on enhancing the University’s current security programs, providing transparency in security decisions, and allowing student input in the training and hiring of new security personnel.

In an email to The News-Letter, Quinn Lester, a graduate student in Political Science and a member of Students Against Private Police (SAPP), wrote that he is worried that the Committee will not provide a fair platform for those with different points of view, especially those who do not support an increase in campus security.

“My skepticism is that this Committee is not for making student voices heard but shutting up those students the administration thinks are getting too loud,” he said.  

The 10 designated student organizations that will be represented on the board are Homewood Student Government Association (SGA), Homewood Graduate Representative Organization (GRO), Bloomberg School of Public Health Student Assembly, School of Nursing Student Senate, School of Medicine Medical Student Senate, School of Medicine Graduate Student Association, School of Advanced International Studies SGA, Carey Business School Student Advocacy Council, School of Education Student Body and the Peabody Institute Student Body.

These groups will each nominate two members for a position on the Committee. Hyatt and Shollenberger will then decide between the two candidates.

SGA Executive Vice President AJ Tsang said that he first learned of the University’s plans for the Committee over the summer when Hyatt met with him and other SGA members for an introductory meeting. According to Tsang, Hyatt announced her plans for the Committee at the meeting. 

“At that meeting, she basically broached the idea to us of how to engage students with her new administration on campus in terms of advocating for safety and security on campus, and so we recommended to her that she involve students,” he said.

Hyatt explained that she wanted the 10 organizations to be representative of students across all Hopkins campuses, in addition to five members from the general student body.

“It was decided that a 15-member working group would be an opportunity to hear from and work with students across the university and with a diversity of perspectives and experiences,” she wrote. “It is also vital that we are inclusive of the voices of those who are not members of a formal student governance body.”

Hyatt also stated that the Committee will be open to students with a variety of different perspectives on campus security and safety.

“We are seeking a diverse group of students with a wide variety of views on campus safety and security,” she wrote. “I would only ask that those who apply are willing to commit to be open-minded, collaborative, and interested in making JHU security more effective.”

She further emphasized that the focus of the committee is to enhance security which does not necessarily mean an increase in personnel. 

Tsang said that he would also like to see students with a variety of opinions apply for the Committee.

“Our hope though, especially with students that are general members, is that they’re ones that aren’t just going to be yes people to the advisory council, and that they have an opinion that reflects what students feel about security on campus,” he said. 

Last spring the University announced its intention to create a private campus police force with the aim of increasing campus security. The University received large amounts of pushback from students as well as community members. 

Tsang explained that he addressed the University’s proposal to create a private police force in his meeting with Hyatt. 

“We asked what the timeline is on that, if they’re planning on bringing it back, and essentially they equivocated a little more and said they’re analyzing security on campus in general first,” he said. “This school year they’re going to spend time analyzing patterns of crime and patterns of safety violations on campus to see where they need to allocate more resources to safety and security on campus before they decide that they want to go forward or not with the private police force.”

SGA Executive Secretary Aspen Williams agreed that based on the meeting, it seemed that Hyatt wanted to establish transparency for Hopkins security.

“She very much made it seem as if her focus was to emphasize accountability in the security force we have right now,” she said. 

Hyatt explained that students can currently provide feedback for security personnel via email. 

She also stressed that there are other efforts to improve communication between administration and students in the works. 

“Members of the Campus Safety and Security team have been meeting with students around campus, at events and via other opportunities,” she wrote. “Developing other means of communication will be one of the topics that this Committee will discuss. We are very interested in learning how and what are the most effective ways to engage with the student body and solicit its feedback.”

She also plans to gather feedback from Baltimore community members to aid in security decisions.

“The community is absolutely a critical stakeholder in our overall safety plan for the university. I have already begun meeting with several community groups to listen to their ideas and concerns about what safety on and around campus looks like. I look forward to continuing to build my relationship with the community,” Hyatt wrote. “As with the students, I will look to the community for their ideas of how they like to communicate and exchange ideas.”

Quinn Lester, the SAPP member, noted that in the spring, the University announced that it had introduced a bill into the Maryland State Legislature which would allow them to create a private police force without first gathering community or student feedback. 

“Certainly last year the administration saw no need to consult with students and community members before announcing its legislative push for a private police force, so we can only see the Committee now as backtracking on the admin’s part to cover up their mistakes from last year,” he wrote.

Lester further expressed concern with the fact that Homewood students only had two guaranteed representative. 

“The makeup of the Committee is woefully inadequate even for fulfilling its advisory role,” Lester wrote.

Williams said that she hopes the administration will take student input seriously.

“I’m hopeful that it’s an administrative shift towards listening to student voices. We really don’t know for sure what they have in mind, but I feel like it is at least a step in the right direction,” she said. “I do hope that the administration does take into account what the variety of students have to say, and a majority of students do not want a private police force, that they understand that that’s the student input, and they can’t just wait for us to cycle out of our time here to then implement the policy.”

Lester does not believe that the Committee will have true decision-making power. 

“This fits an established pattern by JHU of establishing committees and pretending they are fully consultative with all JHU community members. Yet in practice the administration has rarely listened to recommendations from advisory committees, precisely because they are advisory and have no binding powers on administration decision making,” he wrote.

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