LEWISTON – Several hundred Bates College students joined a protest Friday calling on the college to transform a campus security system they insist is both racist and unjust.

Senior Owen Schmidt said that officers with the Campus Security Department are “just a bunch of dudes pretending to be cops” who operate within a police structure that fails to keep students safe.

“We are here to disarm and defund Campus Safety” Office, said one of the organizers, junior Ashka Jhaveri.

The movement was spurred both by a national effort to reform policing and because of a March 5 incident where a security officer is alleged to have tackled and tried to handcuff a white student in Rand Hall after he refused to show an identification card. The officer has since been fired.

Students gathered in front of Lane Hall, where top Bates administrators work, to insist the college get moving on promises to revise its security system.

After the protest, the college issued a statement that said, “We agree that the current model is not working well for students or the Campus Safety staff, and we are working with students and staff to address problems with our current approach and to get to a better place.”

Muskan Verma, a student from India who has met with administrators working on the issue, said the college intends to “move away from people with a police background” for campus safety positions and toward those with more expertise in social work and dealing with young people.

Verma said the plan also involves creating at least two new positions for residential life who could deal with issues such as noise and liquor complaints instead of having security officers handle the calls.

The changes the college has in mind, she said, would be “a very, very good step.”

Bates said in response that it expects to review recommendations for structural and cultural improvements from outside investigator Sarah Worley, who was brought in to probe issues that arose from the March 5 confrontation between officers and students.

Several speakers at the rally — sponsored by the Bates Leftist Coalition and the Bates Restorative and Transformative Justice Coalition — bemoaned that it took the mistreatment of a white student to put the issue of campus safety front and center at Bates. They said Black and other traditionally overlooked students have long complained without anyone taking action.

“This college has failed to address the systemic racism that is alive and well in their security department,” Jhaveri said.

Carly Ransford, a junior from Colorado, said the existing security system “is rooted in racism” and meant to uphold “a white supremacist system” — a microcosm, she said, of policing across the nation.

Ransford said that “what students want” is transparency and a chance to be involved in creating a new system that offers genuine safety.

Schmidt, general manager of the student radio station, said the college could find better alternatives easily.

“It’s a mere Google search away,” he said.

Two students who will serve as co-presidents of the student government next year, first-year Marcos Pacheco and sophomore Kush Sharma, hailed the protest and urged the administration to respond to student demands.

“I really hope that with this walkout the college can really start listening,” Sharma said.

He said the reality is that Campus Safety “has made students feel more unsafe” rather than safer, a problem that has gone on for years.

“It’s time to break that cycle,” Sharma said, “if not for us, then for the future.”

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