Cal State Long Beach faculty back professor who accused campus police of racial profiling
More than 100 Cal State Long Beach faculty members have signed a letter in support of a professor at the university who accused campus police of racial profiling.
Steven Osuna, an associate professor of sociology who is Latino, accused campus police of racial discrimination after an officer refused to unlock his office door when he accidentally locked himself out. The faculty members’ letter of support was in response to a July 12 complaint to the university’s board of trustees from the Statewide University Police Assn., the union that represents campus police, which had accused Osuna of dishonesty.
“The Statewide University Police Association (SUPA) is saying I should be investigated for ‘dishonesty and malicious intent’ for speaking up against racial profiling,” Osuna tweeted. “This is clear intimidation and an attempt to silence my union and I.”
The university’s policy states that campus doors will be unlocked for faculty and staff who provide positive identification, such as a campus staff or faculty ID card, have permission to go into the area and express a need for the door to be unlocked.
According to a letter dated Aug. 1, faculty members questioned how Osuna was treated by police and how the university policy was enforced. They noted that some white faculty members had shared stories of how officers had opened their office doors, sometimes without asking for ID or having them call their dean.
“The systemic context of the treatment to which Dr. Osuna was subjected at the hands of the CSULB University Police Department is not an anomaly nor should it be dismissed as a matter of policy or administrative procedure,” they wrote. “Policies and their implementation, after all, are complicit in fostering systemic inequality and racism.”
University officials said they don’t believe the officer acted inappropriately but apologized to Osuna and assured him that they would review building-access protocols.
“Systemic racism and abuse of power by police in this country are real, profound challenges,” officials said in the statement. “As an institution of higher education, we embrace our role as a place for these issues to be explored and debated, with solutions identified.”
Osuna said he was in his office on May 25 getting ready for an online workshop for the Sociology Club at Long Beach Community College and walked out to use the bathroom, forgetting his keys, cellphone and ID, according to a statement from the California Faculty Assn.
Osuna alerted university police, who sent an officer to meet him, he said. When asked for identification, Osuna explained that he had lost his ID but could provide his faculty ID number. Osuna was told to contact his dean, but he told the officer he didn’t have the dean’s phone number or his phone. He told the officer he could find his faculty profile online.
The officer then called his supervisor, who told the officer not to unlock the door. In the call to his supervisor, the officer referred to Osuna as staff instead of faculty. Osuna then said to the officer that if he were white, the police wouldn’t have doubted that he was a faculty member.
One of Osuna’s colleagues was heading to campus to also participate in the workshop and was able to let Osuna inside his office. But Osuna was more than 20 minutes late to his workshop, he said.
The Statewide University Police Assn. has also released body camera footage of the incident, confirming that the officer asked Osuna for identification but Osuna replied that he had lost his ID while traveling.
“If I were a white professor, you would be fine with this,” Osuna said in the video.
Osuna said that he has already filed a labor grievance with the university through his union and is in talks with school officials. “It’s an ongoing process,” he said.
In the letter, several of Osuna’s colleagues wrote that they had accidentally locked themselves out of their offices over the years, but that they had been let in by campus police without issue.
“I’ve taught at CSULB for sixteen years, and if leaving one’s keys or wallet in the office were a sport, I’d be a top contender. I’ve done this at least a half dozen times,” wrote Ron Loewe, a professor of anthropology. “In all the years I’ve taught here, I’ve never been told about a campus policy prohibiting an officer from unlocking a faculty office or requiring us to show an ID. Nor have I been asked to call the dean.”
SUPA President Matt Kroner said he couldn’t comment on previous incidents in which other faculty or staff members had accidentally locked themselves out but that the officer “made a good faith effort to comply with the policy and also try to help.”
“I think in this particular incident, it wasn’t the Asian officer who responded or the Latino supervisor who injected race into this. It was Dr. Osuna. He made pre-judgments based on stereotypes,” Kroner said.
Osuna added that he recently spoke to a colleague who told him he went through a similar situation, but that a campus officer had looked him up in their database and said he didn’t have to present identification.
Kroner confirmed that there’s a faculty directory for each campus but it’s not considered a valid form of identification.
“If the officer let in a professor who’d been let go, then the officer could be disciplined,” Kroner said.
Osuna and the other faculty members are calling for reform of campus policing and the formation of an independent Campus Police Accountability Council.
“This is a systemic problem on campus for faculty, students and staff of color,” Osuna said. “There are students demanding beyond the accountability council and asking to defund the police on campus. We’re trying to reimagine campus safety that we have democratic control over.”
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