Faculty members and the human resources department are holding an ongoing investigation into allegations of unfair searches and unnecessarily heightened security at a Brothers’ Forum and Omega Psi Phi fraternity sponsored dance on campus Sept. 15.
Many students and faculty believe that inconsistent, unfair, and possibly racially motivated security measures were implemented before and during the event, co-sponsored by the African-American club and fraternity.
In response to these concerns, the Coalition for Diversity held an open forum on Wednesday to discuss students’ experiences and concerns surrounding the event and diversity at the University of La Verne.
The dance, which was held in the Campus Center Ballroom, was meant to raise awareness about the predominantly black Omega Psi Phi fraternity, which has not had much visibility on campus due to low membership in recent years.
Several guests from other Omega Psi Phi chapters in Riverside and Fullerton were expected to attend the event.
The event also coincided with ULV’s first home football game.
During the planning of the dance, controversy arose when University personnel suggested the number of security guards be raised from two to four. There were also reports of racist comments in this planning process.
At the dance, many guests were patted down by security guards, who also reportedly felt women’s hair before they could enter, according to Black Student Union members who attended the dance.
Some students observed that not everyone was searched equally.
“I was standing there waiting to be pat down and they said ‘Oh, you’re fine,’ and directed me up the stairs,” Kimberly White, sophomore athletic training major, said. “They let two of my other friends through but stopped my other friend and patted her down and checked her hair.”
White, who attended with three friends, explained that the one person in her group to be patted down was the only African American member of the group.
Part way through the dance, the ballroom lights were turned off-and-on several times until one section of lights was left on for the remainder of the time, students said.
“At first we thought someone had hit the lights on accident,” Shae Perkins, senior psychology major, said. “Then it kept happening, and finally when they left one light on, it was really disruptive.”
Since the event, there has been much confusion about what exactly happened and who is responsible for irregularities in security.
Campus Safety met with the Brothers’ Forum before the dance and told them they could inform security of the safety procedures that the organizers wanted.
“It was told to us that we were in charge of the officers and it would be up to our discretion of where they should go or what they should do,” said Taylor Reed, president of Omega Psi Phi, one of the students who organized the event.
“We told two security guards to be at the front and pat people down as they entered. I had heard after the party that security was going through girls’ hair and their purses, which we never told them to do,” Reed said.
Reed, who is also vice president of Brothers’ Forum, said he believed the increase in security was racially motivated and would not have been required of another group.
Several other students said they felt hurt by the discrepancies that occurred and took note that much of what was done at the dance has never happened at other events they have been to on campus.
Many of these stories were articulated at the Wednesday forum. Some were vocal about the issue of covering the costs and the alleged necessity of the extra security.
Richard Rose, professor of religion and philosophy, has been working closely with the Brothers’ Forum and Black Student Union, both of which he advises.
“I was under the impression that two (security personnel) was the standard,” Rose said. “The increase was challenged based on the (apparent racist comments) made and the standard of who was still responsible for paying.”
The Brothers’ Forum has not yet received a bill for the extra security.
Joy Lei, the University’s chief diversity and inclusivity officer, is examining the issue. ULV administration realizes there is a problem, and they are working to resolve it, Lei said.
She also explained the complexity of the issue and indicated that there were many problems, however the biggest issue was irregularity in La Verne procedure and decorum.
“We need clear, consistent policies,” Lei said. “Administration is working on new policies that will be more inclusive.”
Clive Houston-Brown, associate vice president of facility and technology services, attended the diversity forum to clarify misconceptions. The general consensus is that, while there were informal understandings in policy, no set policy for dances and other on-campus events has ever been established, Houston-Brown said.
“First, we are creating policy where policy did not exist,” Houston-Brown said. “By doing this, we will have an action plan for all future events. A draft of this plan is currently being developed and will be shared with the Weekly Events Review Meeting, or WERM, committee in the next week or two.”
The WERM committee is composed of representatives from several departments on campus. Houston-Brown also said that they want participation from students and other members of ULV when creating this new policy.
Besides problems with communication and management, students and faculty shared the deeper issues and implications they felt were at stake.
“I’m convinced our students deserve much better,” said Matt Witt, associate professor of public administration and Coalition for Diversity member. “The campus climate must be one that treats students equally in all matters. We need to meet the challenge to become an institution at its best.”
Members of Brothers’ Forum felt that the dance and the people who attended were misunderstood.
“It’s (Brothers’ Forum) for African American males, but all are welcome,” said Justin Davis, former president of Brothers’ Forum. “It’s a support system made up of three generations: high school, college and past members to get together and help each other out with whatever it might be.”
At the forum, Houston-Brown apologized for the way things had been handled and said that there were steps being taken to ensure this kind of problem would not arise again.
The Coalition is also asking for mandatory sensitivity training for all employees with regard to racial and multicultural matters as well as a formal apology from the President and her committee.
Campus-wide awareness of the incident was the final request of the Coalition to the University to ensure a more diverse and inclusive school.
The Coalition is currently organizing a meeting among all of the parties involved who have not yet met together.
President Lieberman is expected to attend the Black Student Union meeting on Oct. 17 to further address what will be an ongoing endeavor.
Faculty and students agreed that this incident is one that affected the community as a whole, and instead of letting it go away they want for it to be a catalyst for positive change.
Katie Madden can be reached at email@example.com.