In an effort to better inform students about their rights, the newly chartered Students’ Rights Union (SRU) held a question-and-answer session with University Police officers.
Wednesday’s Q-and-A was the first event for the group, which was chartered at the end of last semester.
“A lot of the tension between police and students and Residential Life and students arises from, essentially, ignorance,” said Ryan Ginsburg, the president and founder of SRU and a sophomore majoring in environmental studies. “So we wanted basically to fill in that knowledge gap and make sure that people know exactly what they are and are not allowed to do in certain situations and what Residential Life and UPD are and are not allowed to do in certain situations and encourage students to speak up.”
Ginsburg came up with the idea for the club a year ago, when classes were not canceled despite there being thick ice on the ground. Concerned about the criteria for canceling school, he learned that there was not a specific policy for decisions regarding canceled classes. This lack of information led him to start the club based on the idea that students should have an understanding of their rights to improve their ability to advocate for themselves.
University Police officers Mark Silverio and Allen Saxby attended the Q-and-A session to address the problems students have on campus.
Students asked UPD officers questions ranging from broad topics about the officers’ jobs and what they do, to specifics like what to do if an officer is checking a dorm in response to a report of marijuana use.
“These were all good questions,” Silverio said. “When we’re doing calls [students] have a perception of what they think their rights are … so if we could clear up a lot of that, and if they knew exactly what their rights really are, rather than what they saw on television, that would be nice.”
The officers said the majority of interactions with students were positive, despite the negative perceptions some students have of law enforcement.
“Attitude is one of the biggest things,” Silverio said. “You treat me like I’m stupid, like I don’t know what I’m doing, you’re probably getting charged.”
Ginsburg asked what the officers carried with them, and Silverio went through each item, describing how the taser, baton and pepper spray are only there for situations that get out of hand. According to Silverio, they have only had to use them a few times, and they would rather never use them.
Many of the questions were about how the police deal with drug offenses in dorms. The officers said the way a situation is handled varies depending upon the officers, and that students’ cooperation is most important.
Samson Widerman, the executive vice president of the Student Association, oversees the chartering of new student groups. Despite originally having some reservations about chartering SRU because other organizations may cover the same issues, Widerman said they were ultimately persuaded.
“There’s always room for more advocacy and different interests,” Widerman said. “I’ve met with the leaders of the organization, and I’m very confident that they have good ideas and will contribute positively to campus.”
The “Let’s Chat With Cops” event was SRU’s first event, which Ginsburg said he considered successful.
“The response from the people who attended was overwhelmingly positive,” Ginsburg said. “And even more importantly the response from the police officers who attended was very positive, and that’s what we wanted to make sure of.”