Checkpoint: Providence

mattdefaultMatthew Henry Smith ’16

A week or so ago, a friend of mine was stopped after using his student ID to scan into the Peterson Center. Security asked to see his ID, because they thought he might have been a “neighborhood kid”. He is from Massachusetts.

About two or three blocks from the gates on the corner of River and Eaton Street is my house. I’d lived there in the Elmhust area of Providence all of my life until I came to live here, a few backyards away, in Friartown.

Still, I am a neighborhood kid.

My friend has soft brown skin, dark friendly eyes and the resilient swagger of any student who fights the race barrier each day at this school. My skin is pink and freckled, my eyes blue, and I walk through campus wondering why, despite actually being a kid from the neighborhood, I have never been stopped.

If only the issue of minority v. security were new, but it reaches far beyond even the time here spent by our senior class. According to students who have been the subject of “random” checkpoints, stops like these can happen as many as fifteen times in a single student’s academic career. This article is looking at only a fistful of threads in what is the tapestry of issues with diversity on campus.

It’s not just the stops. It’s not just the skin. When six male students passed me late one night and called me a faggot, I timidly took my story to safety and security. No safe-space sticker in sight, the officer who took my information (assuming from my look and candor that I was heterosexual), stated, “you know, they probably just thought that you were somebody else.”

With all due respect, those boys were just bigots; making aesthetic assumptions is the office of Safety and Security’s consistent transgression.

This year, Safety and Security announced that it would be pursuing accreditation. This month, in the wake of an uptick in racial profiling allegations, the department hosted a “listening session” where students with issues could address the department without feeling like they’re accounts will be discredited. I was in attendance, and noticed that while Major Leyden and Officer Dunbar listened attentively, the person who was overseeing the accreditation offered unwarranted, inappropriate excuses after every student testimony. It boiled down to victim blaming, telling students that they are responsible for coming to security (the department whose members have profiled them) post profiling to document the incident. This was not the meeting students were told they were having.

On the flipside of this issue is the question of “the neighborhood kid” and more importantly, PC’s relationship with the neighborhood.

When the suburbs were being developed the Federal Government granted housing development loans to white people, but not to people of color. This practice known as “redlining” resulted in significant race segregation, as well as financial segregation. White people built up equity and wealth in suburban home-ownership, but people of color were not even allowed to take out loans to renovate their apartments in the city.

This is not to say that there are no wealthy people of color in the US, or low-income white people who come from cities. But when, two afternoons a year, the greater-than 88% percent white and high-income student body dons their pearls, Vineyard Vines, Patagonia and Chubbies and drunkenly occupies the Chad Brown area, we must reassess our practices.

When we parade our relative wealth through an impoverished area, but assert that people who have an “impoverished look” haven’t the right to be on our campus, that is more than a curious injustice. This is the violent gentrification of the neighborhood. And in tandem with the rampant racial profiling on campus, it chimes a harmoniously harrowing message:

Faculty, staff and student, alike, we must consider how our interactions have directly contributed to the canon of American inequality.

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4 thoughts on “Checkpoint: Providence

  1. As a gay PC alum, and one who took part in many groups with a hope and goal of improving PC and it’s ways of dealing with minorities of all kinds, this makes me happy and proud to see such a well defined, carefully stated and fearless speaking of the problems at PC. Keep fighting the good fight. Thank you for working to make PC a better place.

  2. Awesome post, Matthew. I’m an ’08 PC grad and can empathize a lot with your experience. PC was a really unhealthy atmosphere for someone struggling with sexuality or identity issues when I attended. It’s so great to see a strong voice and movement towards inclusivity and acceptance, not just tolerance.

    I read in another one of your posts about the frustrations of Congress being able to implement anti-discrimination policies. I think you would find a lot of support for your efforts from alumni, especially young alumni, who are more interested in giving back to an inclusive and accepting PC, rather than a discriminatory one.

  3. Thank you for eloquently writing what many students and alums have been fighting for. It’s sad to see that nothing has changed. I’m almost certain it won’t. Nevertheless, don’t give up. Let your voice be heard. Who knows, maybe they’ll finally LISTEN.

  4. This doesn’t seem terribly complicated to me. The Security Force should continue protecting student blood and property to the best of their ability, while being particularly sensitive to any member of a racial minority they feel a need to ask questions.

    it’s not a real difficult thing to get right. Let’s have a secure campus, toss the bad actors out and pay greater attention to ill-advised questions to people who have a right to not feel put upon. Security can do its job without the nonsense.

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