November 5, 2019
Dear AU Community,
A recent emergency response involving a student at the off-campus Frequency Apartments leased by American University was captured in a 30 second video and posted to social media. The emergency response in this situation involved hours of intervention and de-escalation engagements before what was seen on the video. Concerns about the video and a subsequent campus protest have led to questions from our community and beyond about American University’s commitment to Black students and the role and procedures of the AU Police Department (AUPD) in responding to emergencies or crisis situations.
We take the concerns about these complicated situations seriously, especially given our national climate and the lived experiences of communities of color and other marginalized communities across this country. It is understandable that, absent critical details not available in a short video, the public and media representation of these events can be disturbing. First and foremost, we want to clearly state that American University remains deeply committed to the dignity, privacy and well-being of our students, which are hallmarks of our inclusive excellence journey. We also want to discuss how American University addresses emergency situations.
We consider American University residence halls, on and off-campus, as personal, sacred homes for our students. Our goal is that students in our halls feel safe and welcome. To foster safety and address any emergency situations that arise, university employees charged with the health and welfare of our students follow response protocols designed in the best interests of students and our community. This involves collaboration between the Residential Life team, AUPD, the AU Counseling Center, and other university services. With this approach, many emergencies are addressed by onsite staff in the residence halls, without requiring the involvement of AUPD.
When emergency situations present safety concerns, American University has a well-trained, cross functional team in place to ensure the well-being of our community. This includes our Crisis Response Team (CRT), whose primary purpose is to take all necessary and proper steps to de-escalate volatile situations, stabilize a crisis, and provide needed support. The goal is to resolve matters calmly and affirmatively. The university also has a responsibility to protect the privacy of our students, as required by federal law.
Understanding AUPD Protocols
AUPD is guided by well-established protocols, with a policing model tailored for the university’s educational setting and designed to support students, faculty, and staff in this learning environment. AUPD officers are employees of the university and held to the same policies and standards as all our employees.
AUPD training includes the Campus University Police Institute Program sponsored by the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area, and mandatory courses on ethics, fair and impartial policing, community policing, and diversity in the community. In addition, the AU Police Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program is a partnership with the AU Counseling Center, DC’s Department of Behavioral Health, and the DC Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
This comprehensive approach prepares AUPD officers to respond to situations on campus when called, with the goal of supporting the needs of our students and maintaining our educational community.
Addressing Additional Matters
The other matter that arose was a subsequent campus protest that cited the video and an unrelated student conduct process. While we cannot comment on specific student conduct matters, the university ensures all members of the community abide by reasonable standards as outlined in our Student Conduct Code. There are clear procedures to ensure all matters are reviewed in a fair and consistent manner. Additionally, as outlined in the Code, the university can use interim measures to stabilize a situation, support individuals, and implement procedures to resolve concerns.
Moving Forward Together
Times like these challenge us and sow seeds of doubt and frustration. However, we cannot and will not be diverted from our mission to build a community that is rooted in inclusive excellence and one in which students of all backgrounds can be safe and thrive as they pursue their education. We have made some progress and we know we have much more work to do to ensure members of our community feel a sense of belonging and safety. In the days and weeks ahead, we will continue engaging members of the community, including student leaders, with a renewed commitment to enhance understanding of our safety and wellness approaches and protocols.
Vice President of Campus Life & Inclusive Excellence
Vice President (responsible for oversight of AU Police and University Risk Management)