While some feel safer, some staff and faculty have voiced discontent with the tightening of security in several University of Minnesota buildings.
The security changes, which came after a recent increase of trespassing incidents, were implemented in December in some of the health sciences buildings on campus. In recent meetings, faculty and staff have raised concerns about the impact this heightened security presence could have on homeless individuals, marginalized communities and the identity of the University as a public, land-grant institution.
The new security measures include checkpoints at main entrances at which students, staff, faculty and guests must display University identification or proof of their purpose in the buildings.
University Services Vice President Mike Berthelsen and Chief of Staff Paige Rohman have been visiting senate committees and other groups in recent weeks to discuss the changes and gather feedback.
At the Jan. 23 Professionals and Administrators Consultative Committee meeting, some raised concerns about the limitation of public access to the buildings, as well as security’s impact on marginalized communities.
At the meeting, staff discussed an email representing the views of a portion of P&A library staff.
“These policies, and those that create physical barriers to entry, or require interaction with gatekeeping personnel, create actual disparate impacts on people with disabilities, and many members of other marginalized groups,” the email reads. “These cannot be considered unintended consequences; they are foreseen and foreseeable effects.”
The new security is being temporarily provided by the contractor Securitas while the University works to hire more security personnel.
The officers are required to receive a written implicit bias brief before beginning work at the University, and to meet state training statutes, according to University spokesperson Lacey Nygard.
At last week’s Senate Consultative Committee meeting, Berthelsen said he and Rohman received feedback from health sciences students that these changes have made them feel safer.
Rohman said requiring every individual entering the health sciences buildings to show ID or proof of purpose was intended to remove bias.
For some, however, such as Renée Crichlow, bias in enforcement has already been a reality.
Crichlow, who is an assistant professor with the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, said she gets checked for ID while other groups are able to walk past.
“I always get checked,” she said. “... I’m black, I’m just used to that. And people don’t even notice that that’s happening, they don’t even notice that they’re doing it.”
Crichlow said putting criteria in place and following it helps to eliminate room for bias.
“When you let people pick and choose, implicit bias always comes in,” she said.
The security changes have not been difficult overall, Crichlow said, but it has made it more challenging to meet in the health sciences buildings with individuals who typically are not on campus.
Ian Ringgenberg, the former P&A Senate chair and current honors advisor, said he is concerned about the way homelessness has been framed in discussions about the new security.
“I think we’re putting a lot of money into security and cops and door scanners and cameras and things like that and I would rather see that money going into housing people who need a place to live,” he said.
John Connett, a professor in the Division of Biostatistics in the School of Public Health, said the changes have not impacted him personally, but that he had heard of some safety concerns in the past.
Connett said while the security may be more effective at night, during the day it is easy to enter the buildings without a U Card due to the amount of traffic in and out of the doors with card scanners.
“I worry that we are kind of giving in to paranoia and fear around this and I’m not sure that the steps that we’re taking are going to dramatically increase safety,” Ringgenberg said.
Correction: a previous version of this story misstated Ian Ringgenberg's title. He is an adviser in the University Honors Program.