Recent conversations surrounding the College’s trespass policy have drawn attention to dividing lines between the town and school. Students, alumni and community members formed the One Town Campaign in response to the trespass policy, which they say maintains a disciplinary double standard for students and community members, encourages racial profiling, shields itself from public accountability, hoards resources, contributes to negative perceptions of community members and limits their full use of the town.
Melissa George, OC’12 and member of the One Town Campaign, grew up in Oberlin. She said that her main concerns with the No Trespass List are the divide it creates and the resources it denies to community members.
“[I take issue with] the ways in which the College prides itself on helping people, and at the same time denying people who are right there basic resources of computer access and youth in town a place to play basketball in the wintertime,” George said.
According to Burton, the No Trespass List is designed to “combat … students losing personal property, students losing a general sense of safety and financial cost to the College.”
The violation of College policy is grounds for placement on the No Trespass List. These violations include theft, vandalism, assault, drug and alcohol use and selling, interrupting business, an unauthorized presence, sexual offenses, menacing, stalking, burglary, armed and unarmed robbery and weapons offenses.
In an interview with the Review, George recounted episodes of what she considered racial profiling within the Oberlin community, and said that these incidents are manifestations of this official College policy.
“[The No Trespass List] definitely [encourages racial profiling]. It sets up what a townie looks like and what a college student looks like,” George said. “I know many people who have never been asked for their IDs and they don’t go to the College. They’re generally white males or females.”
A.G. Miller, associate professor and chair of the Religion department, said that George’s concern with the implementation of the policy is not unique.
“There were, and have been for years, people within this community who are concerned about the No Trespass List. Many of them have felt that there are implications particularly for African American youth in the community,” Miller said.
While a perception of racial profiling exists in the community, Burton stated that the majority of notice recipients are white males, with a fairly large percentage of juveniles and adults over 60 years of age.
“[That most of those on the list are not African American] is certainly, as far as I know, information that is not readily known,” Miller said.
“I think that [the No Trespass List] potentially can [encourage a system of racial profiling], and I think that there are folks in the community who do believe that there’s a lot of racial profiling involved,” Miller said. “It’s yet to be seen statistically how true that is. But I think there’s a perception out there that it is, so that’s why the more clarity we can bring to the conversation the better.”
Dean of Student Life Eric Estes said that any accusation of racial profiling is cause for serious concern and that any such action would not be tolerated. But Estes rejects the idea that this type of policing occurs on campus.
“S&S officers are not roaming campus looking for potential violators of trespass notices. Trespass notice violations are almost always the result of a complaint about or a reported violation by an individual,” Estes said. “These are situations that officers are required to respond to and not situations that officers welcome or seek out.”
The blurred line between perception and fact characterizes much of the conversation surrounding the No Trespass List.
Even the existence of a No Trespass “list” is itself up for debate. While Estes and Burton deny the existence of a “list as such,” stating that cases are dealt with on an individual basis, Oberlin Police Department dispatcher A.J. Parrack asserted that both Safety and Security and the Oberlin Police Department have access to the list, and that Safety and Security regularly supplies the Police Department with updated versions of the list.
Miller has been party to a number of conversations in the recent past concerning problematic elements of the College’s trespass policy. One of these conversations occurred at the city of Oberlin’s Human Relations Commission meeting in May of last year. Though minutes from the meeting report that Commission members were “uncomfortable with elements of the College’s ‘No Trespass’ Policy,” the issue was ultimately left for further discussion at future meetings.
The majority of those who find themselves on the No Trespass List are small-scale repeat offenders who have committed acts for which they would not be arrested. After placement on the list, though, the first violation of the No Trespass policy will result in immediate arrest.
The demystification of College security policy is at the center of concerns regarding the No Trespass List. “I think there needs to be some clarity: Who’s on it? How does one get on it? How does one get off of it? What procedures are set in place?” Miller said.
Additionally, he said that confusion surrounding policy makes it difficult to even be aware of one’s own status in the eyes of campus security. “I also know that there have been former alumni who have been put on the No Trespass List for a variety of different reasons. Some of them don’t even know how or why they got on,” Miller said.
George said that her friend is currently working through the court proceedings for violating the No Trespass policy.
“He got in trouble when he was younger, and he went to a party and S&S came. They called the cops and he was arrested. People just don’t know [they’re on the list] or they forget. Because when you’re 13 to when you’re 20 … you don’t remember that.”
While George said the abolition of the No Trespass List stands as an ultimate goal of the One Town Campaign, Miller said that its proper implementation, rather than its existence, is the real issue.
“I think there is probably a need for a No Trespass List. How that list gets adjudicated I think is a more difficult matter,” Miller said.
Estes maintained that despite its problems, the existence of a No Trespass policy is nevertheless essential to maintaining a safe environment.
“Even though I have supported the issuing of trespass notices as dean, I am also concerned about the impact of a trespass notice on both students and members of the community,” Estes said. “I do appreciate a number of the issues raised by the One Town Campaign. For example, their desire that the process to request the rescinding of a trespass notice should be as accessible as possible.”
The One Town Campaign will host a community dialogue at the Oberlin Public Library next Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 6:30 p.m. Dinner is provided and free transportation and childcare are available, and members of both the College and the community are encouraged to participate in the discussion.