It has been a difficult two weeks to be a Zag and a community member of Spokane.
Last week, between Tuesday and Friday, Spokane police responded to five drive-by shootings, one of which on Tuesday happened just blocks away from campus on in front of the home of five Gonzaga University seniors.
This all, of course, happened days after GU suffered its own security incident when a white man, not affiliated with GU, entered a classroom in College Hall and yelled profane and derogatory slurs at a Black female professor in the room. The man proceeded to leave the classroom and walk around campus before campus security was finally able to catch up with him.
In the past two weeks, I have felt a variety of emotions: sadness, frustration, confusion, helplessness and doubt. I have found myself paranoid over the safety of friends and myself, and I feel helpless and frustrated each morning as I read these headlines. There have been moments where I have doubted the efficacy of our police and campus security, and there have been moments of overwhelming sadness for a city that seems to be bowing under the weight of a large range of social stressors.
The question on how to secure a college campus and protect the students, faculty and staff inside is not a new debate. On the contrary, it is an ongoing conversation happening across college campuses, particularly with security officials who are constantly analyzing and adjusting the ways that they address security threats on campus.
Generally, changes to the approach of campus security are often reactive and very limited. In response to criminal activity, some universities have increased the number of security officers patrolling their campus and the area around them. Other colleges have built fences around their campuses, further cutting themselves off from the communities that they reside in. GU’s response to the incident two weeks ago was to limit building access to keycards at all times of day and to check the locks on classroom doors.
But it is important to realize that all of these attempts are solely meant to minimize the damage, not stop them, from occurring. They do not address the root causes of these incidents, which stem from broader social issues. In fact, they cover up this social notion and promote a mindset that crime and security threats are isolated events.
A holistic approach is needed. One that responds to a campus’s security concerns and the social needs of the surrounding community where these incidents are occurring. It must be sustainable, focusing on the many intersections and factors that exist in our society, and it must be seen in the long term.
It is for this reason that in response to the drive-by shootings and the incident on GU’s campus on Sept. 14, GU must reinforce its commitment to serving the community that GU borders — the Logan Neighborhood — in addition to the wider Spokane region. This commitment needs to be connected to issues of race and access. It has to be connected to our Jesuit values of accompaniment and solidarity. It must focus on destigmatizing the cultural perceptions that we have when talking about crime and poverty.
I admit that campus security is important when addressing security concerns, and I applaud the quick response that GU’s campus security has done following the incident on our campus. Clamping down on who can get into buildings is the first step, but we must take the next step, too, and address the issues of our wider community.
The drive-by shootings and the incident on our campus affects us all. We are intertwined in a broader network of people and systems, and we must remember this when looking at issues related to safety. These limited and reactive responses forget this. They are self- focusing, they prevent us from being open neighbors to the communities around us and they often heighten the environment that propagates these events to occur.
I know that this is not an easy answer when it comes to responding to safety concerns, but this is the only answer that gives me hope. It promises a world where the best security comes from relying on relationships, not on building walls or shutting people out. It is founded on the premise that goodness is foundational to humanity and that there is no such thing as a “bad person” or “criminal,” only a person that has been the product of an unjust society.
It has indeed been a difficult two weeks to be a Zag and a community member of Spokane, but I believe that if GU can recommit itself as a neighbor to Spokane, perhaps, in the future, these security incidents will go away.