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Morgantown, West Virginia – The Solidarity for Equality and Compassion (SEC) of West Virginia University recently sent a petition to President Gee asking for five very specific things to happen to “provide a safe and open University for students to attend from West Virginia, the United States and all all over the world.

The five-step plan in the petition included the following items:

  1. Prohibit Confederate flags and symbols on all public spaces of the University.
  2. Disarm University Police.  Having officers work under the campus name who carry firearms does not create a welcoming and inclusive space, especially for black, Indiginous, and people of color students and vistors.
  3. Require yearly bias and sensitivity training, as well as bi-annual town halls with the campus police so students and faculty can voice any issues, complaints and queries.
  4. Re-route a portion of the policing budget to aid in the mental and social welfare of students, particularly to the Carruth Center and the WVU Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
  5. Foster a working relationship with the Morgantown Police Department for any calls needing armed backup, as well as sporting and entertainment event backup.

I spoke with Sammantha Norris, the Founder and Lead Coordinator of The Solidary for Equality and Compassion, to get clarity on a few of the items.

Norris, when asked if the she feels that the police department at West Virginia University should be disbanded entirely, she replied, “Personally, I think that the WVU Police should act more as a security force than a policing force – offering escorts to students at night, being a campus resource, etc.  I don’t see a need for actual armed officers working under a university name.  A WVU security team would need funding, but certainly not at the level it currently has.  Those resources can and should be used to better aid in student mental health care and university diversity.  ‘Defund the police’ is easier to chant than “drastically cut funding so it can be used in more student friendly ways.”

She continued: “The changes outlined in the position are a good start, but reducing them to an unarmed security force (they can still call themselves a department if they want to) is the goal.”

I explained that opponents say that it’s necessary for the officers to be armed to maintain law and order.  She replied: “It’s a problem if law enforcement see force and violence as the only way to enforce laws.  I tend to be on the side of humans being mostly good.  Nonviolent crimes, and non criminal calls don’t need armed men responding.  Furthermore, the Morgantown Police Department is right next to the downtown campus – less than 10 minutes from the Evansdale Campus – and the University needs to work with the city and the Morgantown Police Department to foster working relationships so that if there’s a case that might need more than pepper spray or a taser, it’s handled by individuals who don’t see the students every day and don’t have preconceived ideas about them.”

Norris continued: “We see in areas that have non armed officials responding to calls that violence goes down.  The community trust goes up.  You don’t need an armed officer for weed in a dorm room, or drunk frat guys on campus.”

In the meantime, Norris and The Solidarity for Equality and Compassion will collect as many signatures for the petition as possible, and then a group of students will present it to President Gee.  This group demands change now and will not rest until people of all races will feel safe and welcome at West Virginia University.

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