Letter to the Editor: Faculty condemn calling police on student

Editor’s Note: The Daily News publishes Letters to the Editor with minimal copy edits and provides a headline only if the author does not provide one. The views expressed in letters do not necessarily agree with those of the newspaper. We reserve the right to withhold submitted letters depending on the content. Letters should be approximately 500 words and sent to editor@bsudailynews.com. 

Nearly everyone is now familiar with the events that transpired on Tuesday, January 21: Professor Shaheen Borna called the police on a Black student, Sultan "Mufasa" Benson, who declined to switch seats in the middle of class. When the police arrived, they interrogated the student in front of the room. Fortunately, the student’s classmates spoke up in his defense and deescalated the situation. The President has also responded by referring to Professor Borna’s actions as a “gross error of judgment” and as “unwarranted.” As faculty, we, too, must respond by condemning the misuse of police in the classroom, calling out the institutional racism behind it, and telling you, our students, that we are with you.

Our first concern is Borna’s rapid escalation of the situation and involvement of the police to resolve a disagreement about seating. No disruption or physical threat existed. Instead, the police were called in on spurious grounds, thereby violating the trust that students place in their professors and the university to provide a safe place to learn. We firmly believe that the police have no place in classroom management and should be relied upon only when real threats to the safety of those in the room or building exist. Calling the police when there is a disagreement creates a dangerous climate in our classrooms. This danger is felt most by our students of color.

The second concern we have as faculty is the racism inherent in calling the police on Black people and on Black students who have committed no crimes and who pose no threat. As scholars and scientists, we will not speculate about the professor’s intent or reasons for involving police; his intent is unknowable and it is immaterial in this case. His actions, however, reflect either an ignorance of or disregard for a national context where the over-policing of Black communities and the criminalization of Black children has been extended into every aspect of Black life, from the public park and train station to backyard barbecues and even one’s own apartment. As Benson put it in an interview with Ball State’s Daily News: “I made it to college, and I got the police called on me for being in the classroom. It scared me to say the least. You don’t know what’s going to happen in that 20 seconds. If I hadn’t kept my composure, I could’ve been riddled with bullets, tased, beat down, handcuffed — there’s no telling.”

RELATED: Letter to the Editor: Dear Shaheen Borna, 'the student owes you an apology'

Just as concerning is the police response. Officers arrived with little information, according to the university, yet failed to assess the situation before engaging the student as a suspect and giving him the same ultimatum as the professor had. In the absence of an actual threat or report of a threat or disruption, the officers should have gathered information neutrally instead of automatically giving the professor the benefit of the doubt and pressuring the student to do what the professor asked. While conversations with the BSU PD have been initiated, review of and changes to policies and practices toward this end need to take place to ensure the safety of students.

Because of these actions, Benson was fearful. Benson’s fear is legitimate. The trauma inflicted on Benson and on the campus community is real, and it is inexcusable.

We are glad President Mearns has condemned Borna’s actions; however, we are afraid of the message faculty send to students if we remain silent. It tells you that your professors are afraid of you. We are not. It tells you that you do not belong on this campus. You do. It tells you that you may be met with swift, dangerous, and outsized reprisals if you stand out, speak up, or simply exist on our campus. That is not acceptable to us. We desire both critical reflection and bold actions not only to address this violent act but also the institutional culture that allows acts like this to happen.

The use of police to get one’s way in the classroom is institutional violence. We support our students of color as they deal with the trauma of these events and navigate its fallout. We affirm the right of all of our students to learn without fear of arrest, police violence, or institutionalized racism.

We, the undersigned, stand with you.

Sheila Y. Abebe, DNP

Lizz Alezetes, MA

John Ambrosio, PhD

John W. Anderson Jr., MA

Jackson Christopher Bartlett, PhD 

Ben Bascom, PhD 

Laura Bassette, PhD

Michael Begnal, MFA 

Susanna L. Benko, PhD

Timothy Berg, PhD

Douglas A. Bernstein, PhD

Lindsey Blom, EdD

Sharon L. Bowman, PhD

Lori Boyland, EdD

Jill Bradley-Levine, PhD

Nate Brown, MA

Rebecca Brown, EdD

Tracy Caddell, EdD

Ruby Cain, EdD

Jessica Calderwood, MFA

Argnue Chitiyo, PhD

Jill Christman, MFA

Kristin N. Cipollone, PhD

Jon M. Clausen, PhD

Rachel Cohn, MFA

Ashley Coker, MA

SF Collas, PhD

Patrick Collier, PhD

David Concepción, PhD

James Connolly, PhD

Jennifer Cullen, PhD

Mike Dalgety, EdD

Elizabeth M. Dalton, MFA

Andrew S. Davis, PhD

Allyson C. DeMaagd, PhD

Katherine J. Denker, PhD

Katy Didden, PhD

Olon F. Dotson, PhD

Zina Eluri, PhD

Fen English, PhD

Jennifer Erickson, PhD

Bryan E. Essien, PhD

Max Felker-Kantor, PhD

Molly E. Ferguson, PhD

Kathryn Fletcher, PhD

Holmes Finch, PhD

Maria Hernandez Finch, PhD

Sheron Fraser-Burgess, PhD

Obed Frausto, PhD

Rachel Fredericks, PhD

Kathryn S. Gardiner, MFA

Regina J. Giraldo-Garcia, Ph.D.

Denise Harris

Allison H. Hitt, PhD

Emily Brown Hoffman, PhD

Matthew R. Hotham, PhD

Ashley Hutchison, PhD

Angela Jackson-Brown, MFA

Maura Jasper, MFA

Ryan C. Jeske, PhD

Emily Suzanne Johnson, PhD

Darolyn “Lyn” Jones, EdD

Alexander Kaufman, PhD

Jungnam Kim, PhD

Mary E. Kite, PhD

Theresa Kruczek, PhD, HSPP

Patricia L. Lang

Amanda O. Latz, EdD

David C. LeBlanc, PhD

Shuning Liu, PhD

Gennifer M. Mager, PhD

Kendra Mann, MA

Joseph A. Marchal, PhD

Cassandra M. Martin, PhD

Renae D. Mayes, PhD

Tom J. McConnell, PhD

John L. McKillip, PhD

Jackie Grutsch McKinney, PhD

Deborah Mencias McMillan, EdD

Andrea McMurtry, MA

Beth A. Messner, PhD

Lauren C. Mims, PhD

Deborah Mix, PhD

Mary Moore, MA

Winnie Mucherah, PhD

Michael T. Ndemanu, PhD

Ted Neal, MFA

Mark Neely, MFA

Laura O’Hara, PhD

Michael M. O’Hara, PhD

Gilbert C. Park, PhD

Jessica R. Peebles-Spencer, PhD

Robin Phelps-Ward, EdD

Kerri Pickel, PhD

Eric Pierson, PhD

Jean Marie Place, PhD

Jason Powell, PhD

Marilynn Quick, EdD

Gerardo Ramirez, PhD

Vanessa L. Rapatz, PhD

James N. Rediger, EdD

Kristin Reeves, MFA

Jessica Reuther, PhD

Rona Robinson-Hill, PhD

David J. Roof, PhD

Dan W. Royer, EdD

Eric Rubenstein, PhD

Lisa Rubenstein, PhD

Jacinda Russell 

Emily Ruth Rutter, PhD

Serena Salloum, PhD

Janay B. Sander, PhD, HSPP

Sreyoshi Sarkar, PhD

Wilisha Scaife, MA

Emily Jo Scalzo, MFA

Maria B. Sciuchetti, PhD

Michael Shaffer, EdD

Bikram Sharma, PhD

Erik James Shaver, PhD

Serena Shim, PhD

Carolyn K. Shue, PhD

Evette Simmons-Reed, PhD

Amber Spaw

Lynne Stallings, PhD

Angela J. Stefanski, PhD

Mahamud Subir, PhD

Shantanu Suman, MFA

Tasneem L. Talib, PhD

Kelsey Thiem, PhD

Shannon Titus Dieringer, PhD

Jason D. True, PhD

Robert Turick, PhD

Shauna Turner

Sarah Vitale, PhD

Broyny Vitatoe, MS

Khirey B. Walker, PhD

Jill K. Walls, PhD

Jessica L. Ward, PhD

Kiesha Warren-Gordon, PhD

Ellen Whitehead, PhD

Susan M. Wilczynski, PhD, BCBA-D

Robbie Williford

Mary Winfrey-Kovell, MS

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