Bates College has hired two private investigators to look into student complaints that security personnel improperly handcuffed a black male student in front of his peers at a dance this month.

The officers, who work for the college, have been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the probe, according to a note from President Clayton Spencer to the Bates community.

Angry students protested at a recent Boston kickoff event for a $300 million fundraising effort and wrote a blistering newspaper opinion column for The Bates Student declaring their “Bates+Who?” bid to force the school to take action.

Spencer wrote two notes last week that tried to express sympathy for concerned students and explain what the college is doing in response.

The event occurred during a Saturday night campus party May 13 hosted by the Women of Color student group. The incident involved “a student, staff who serve as event support assistants and security officers,” according to Spencer’s note to students in the aftermath.

The student protest coalition said that “a black male student was forcibly grabbed by a Bates Security officer, violently taken to the ground, placed in a headlock and ultimately handcuffed in front of his peers.”

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It said the incident was “one of many examples of injustice” against “students of color on campus” over the years and demanded immediate action.

“We believe the excessive force used and incompetence exhibited during the incident was so egregious as to warrant the immediate firing of both security officers involved. They detained in handcuffs a non-violent Bates student and turned a Village common room into a public prison cell,” the group declared.

The college is waiting for the results of the investigation before deciding what, if any, action to take in response.

“From the very beginning there have been conflicting accounts of what happened at the dance in question and what motivated the actions of the various individuals involved,” Spencer wrote six days after the dance.

“Because of the varying accounts, on the Monday following the event the college engaged two independent investigators with experience in higher education and civil rights to interview participants so that we can develop a clearer understanding of what happened and why,” she said.

The investigators have apparently been talking to eyewitnesses to try to figure out what happened before students depart this week for a summer break.

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In Spencer’s first note, she said the investigators are expected to “provide a thorough and independent assessment of what happened, and make recommendations for appropriate action.”

In her more detailed letter to the Bates community, Spencer said that “whatever the investigation finds about the events on that Saturday night — which resulted in a black male student handcuffed in front of his peers — the experience was deeply distressing for all involved, and it has become a source of serious concern and pain for our community.”

She said the incident has caused students to raise “issues of race and climate on our campus that are pre-existing and long-term, and focused in particular on matters relating to security and campus safety.”

Spencer thanked students for making their voices heard and for pressing their cause “through a peaceful protect and distribution of information” at the Bates+You fundraising event on May 16. She said they showed “courage in traveling to Boston to make their views known.”

College administrators are apparently talking with concerned students to try to come up with “a concrete action plan” to address their concerns.

Spencer said the incident at the dance and subsequent protests “are distressing to me personally because they underscore the gap that exists between our earnest intentions to create an inclusive community that supports all students for full participation and success and the lived experience of many of our students, especially our students of color.”

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“In conversations with me, students of color have vividly described the pain and frustration that accumulate from experiences large and small that make them feel marginalized, underestimated, or under-supported as members of the Bates community,” she said.

“Most liberal arts colleges struggle with these issues, but at Bates this struggle goes to the essence of our identity,” Spencer said.

Though the college has had many initiatives and programs to address the problem over the years, Spencer said the events of recent days “make plain we still have a very long way to go, not least because bates is part of a larger social context.”

“But we also have an opportunity for leadership because of the thoughtfulness and commitment of our students and many others in the Bates community. We will continue to work hard on these issues.”

The Bates+Who? Group suggested the college “can learn from its radical past” as an institution that has admitted black students since its origin in 1855 and  “founded on the idea that anybody — regardless of race, class, or gender — deserved an equal opportunity to receive an education.”

“We call on Bates students, staff, faculty, alumni, administration and security to rekindle the flame of our radical egalitarian ethos as the College charts its future course through its Bates+You capital campaign,” the group said in its statement.


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