Authorities prepare student protesters for transport after their arrests. (Mark Vancleave/StarTribune)
After a wave of student-led protests, including one earlier this month in which protesters staged a sit-in in president Eric Kaler’s office, University of Minnesota officials have agreed to end their policy of always publishing the race of suspects in campus crime alerts.
From now on, the bulletins triggered by serious crimes like robbery and aggravated assault will only include the suspect’s description “when there is sufficient detail that would help identify a specific individual or group,” U vice president Pamela Wheelock said Wednesday in an email to students, faculty and staff.
“For some, knowing they have all the information available about a crime, including the complete suspect description, makes them feel better informed and increases how safe they feel,” Wheelock said. “But others – particularly Black men – have shared that suspect descriptions negatively impact their sense of safety. They express concern that Crime Alerts that include race reinforce stereotypes of Black men as threats and create a hostile campus climate.”
On Feb. 9, about 16 members of the campus advocacy group Whose Diversity? – some lugging sleeping bags – took over Kaler’s second-floor office in Morrill Hall, vowing to stay until their demands were met. The sit-in ended nearly eight hours later with the arrests 13 people.
Among their demands was greater racial and ethnic diversity in university hiring practices and more money for the school’s ethnic studies program, which they contended Kaler had promised would happen by the end of last year.
The university's announcement Wednesday didn't appear to address these issues.
Kaler said in a statement that he reached the decision after conferring with outgoing university police chief Greg Hestness, Wheelock and other school leaders, and reviewing "the practices of a number of other colleges and universities."
"This new approach advances public safety while recognizing the harm caused by using race in otherwise limited suspect descriptions," Kaler said. "While not all will embrace our new approach, I want to assure you that we have heard and sincerely considered the diverse voices and opinions that have been shared."
The protest group didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.