Pratt held a Campus Safety Community Dialogue open to all students, staff and faculty at noon EST on June 25, 2020. Moderated by Jasmine Cuffie, Pratt’s Coordinator of Health Education and Promotion, students and administration discussed the role of policing on campus—both from the Pratt Department of Public Safety and the New York Police Department (NYPD)—and touched on a larger conversation of Pratt’s role in gentrification, the inclusivity of Pratt’s current pedagogy and how we can address the safety of marginalized student communities. Cuffie mentioned that Thursday’s discussion was “not the last conversation . . . or call to action.” Based on student responses to the forum, another meeting of this nature seems likely.
This article will not include direct quotations from students. The dialogue was purposely not recorded (through video or audio) in order to give students an opportunity to speak freely without fear of their responses being recorded. Students’ comments, concerns and questions will be paraphrased, and all students’ names will be left out.
Who Attended the Meeting
Nearly two hundred students, faculty, administration and staff attended the session. President Frances Bronet began the discussion with a reaffirmation of Pratt’s recent statement regarding discrimination and racism on campus. She stated, “As your president, I renew my commitment . . . to eradicate racism.” She was present for the entire ninety-minute discussion, briefly speaking on Pratt’s role in gentrification in the middle and coming back for some brief closing statements at the end.
Dennis Mazone, Pratt’s Assistant Vice President for Campus Safety and Preparedness, spoke about Pratt’s relationship with the NYPD and possible ties that could be severed. He was joined by other members of Public Safety, though he spoke on behalf of the department.
Other speakers included Helen Matusow-Ayres, the Vice President of Student Affairs; Nsombi Ricketts, Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Judith Williams, Title IX Coordinator; Cathleen Kenny, Vice President for Finance and Administration; and a variety of students from different majors and student organizations.
Pratt’s Relationship to the New York Police Department
Mazone clarified many questions that students had regarding Pratt’s relationship to the NYPD, especially the eighty-eighth and sixth precincts, which are the closest locations to the Brooklyn and Manhattan campuses. He explained that there is no financial relationship “in any way, shape, or form” with the NYPD. Pratt partners with city agencies such as the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) and the New York City Department of Health (DOH), and Mazone stated that Pratt’s current relationship with the NYPD does not differ from these other relationships.
In the past, the NYPD has been allowed onto campus to conduct investigations involving Pratt students; for example, NYPD personnel have spoken to Pratt students on campus rather than require them to come to a precinct location for interviews or other investigation purposes. NYPD personnel have also come onto campus to help with security for larger events that Pratt itself cannot aptly secure, such as the Comic Arts Brooklyn event in November 2019. Pratt also runs a toy drive during Christmastime in conjunction with the eighty-eighth precinct.
Students requesting complete severance from the NYPD inquired as to the necessity of some of these reasons for the NYPD to come onto campus. Mazone said that there are opportunities for “tremendous collaboration with other people” and that the NYPD could be utilized by campus security in fewer instances. However, a complete severance may not be possible in instances where an arrest must be made, as Pratt Public Safety does not have the jurisdiction to arrest people, or in emergencies involving Pratt students that do not happen on campus. When a student calls 911, they will receive city first responders, often including the NYPD. Using the number 3540 will contact Pratt Public Safety instead of the NYPD, though Mazone says that in emergency situations, he will not dissuade anyone from calling 911.
Matusow-Ayres seemed optimistic in Pratt’s ability to limit contact with the NYPD. She stated, “We aren’t going to wait until the city releases more on this . . . we are already working towards solutions.”
Presence of NYPD Vehicles On and Near Campus
Pratt students inquired about the presence of NYPD vehicles on and around campus. Mazone clarified Pratt’s relationship to these vehicles and their removal following student dissent.
After the first night of protests in Brooklyn, the NYPD’s eighty-eighth precinct contacted Pratt Public Safety and said that two of their vehicles near campus had been damaged. They requested the use of Pratt’s parking lots to store their vehicles, and Pratt Public Safety acquiesced. Once students learned of the presence of police cars on campus, they requested their removal. Within 24 hours of hearing the complaints, Mazone called the commander of the eighty-eighth precinct and explained that they would no longer offer the parking lots for their use. Vehicles were “promptly removed” from Pratt property after that phone call.
Students also asked about the commonality of police cars at Emerson Gate. The NYPD had put a patrol in place due to an “uptake of crime in that neighborhood,” but upon hearing of student concern, Mazone contacted the eighty-eighth precinct and requested the patrol be removed.
Regarding the parking of NYPD personnel’s personal vehicles behind Cannoneer Court, Mazone said that this issue has also been resolved and cars will not be parked there anymore.
If the NYPD must come onto campus for any reason, they are no longer permitted to park on campus. A situation arose recently in which NYPD personnel came onto campus to investigate damage done to a Pratt Public Safety vehicle, and they were not permitted to bring their vehicles onto campus.
Pratt does not have jurisdiction over the streets surrounding campus. Though Public Safety can limit or prevent interaction on campus, they cannot limit or prevent vehicles from being present on surrounding streets.
Addressing the Need for Change in Pratt’s Relationship with the NYPD
Matusow-Ayres stated, “I’m really interested in engaging our students and more members of our Pratt community [in this conversation].” Other members of administration were quick to agree. Kenny expressed a strong interest in forming a student-run committee that could meet with Pratt Public Safety and NYPD personnel to address safety concerns on campus and work towards solutions that do not involve the NYPD.
Mazone explained Pratt Public Safety devotes resources to “students helping students” to decrease the amount of situations that would require NYPD intervention.
It was briefly mentioned that the commander of the NYPD’s eighty-eighth precinct would be interested in meeting with Pratt students to address concerns. No information regarding this comment has been confirmed.
Role of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Campus Safety
Nsombi Ricketts, the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, spoke on behalf of DEI. She explained that DEI had launched some training efforts for faculty and staff in February. They continued throughout the semester, albeit moved online amid the COVID-19 pandemic. These were not mandatory training sessions, and she says that DEI is interested in working on specific training for Public Safety personnel.
However, Ricketts announced that all faculty, staff, and students will be required to complete diversity training online through Everfi this coming fall. She hopes to eventually move to in-person training, but online training is essential during the pandemic. She encourages anyone with questions to reach out to DEI.
Ricketts also addressed concerns of a reduced budget for DEI. “Everyone will have adjusted budgets . . . that’s just the reality,” she said. However, she clarified that DEI has “consistent support” and that “any changes [to our budget] will not hinder what we do.”
Pratt’s Role in Gentrification
As the conversation progressed, concerns about Pratt’s role in the gentrification of surrounding neighborhoods emerged. President Bronet asserted that “[this forum] is not the time for me to go through [policies of this nature],” but she expressed interest in picking up this conversation in a different dialogue at a later date. She believes that there is a lot to discuss and rectify, but did not want to veer the conversation away from campus safety.
As the session wrapped up, Cuffie asked students what topics they would like to explore in similar forums in the future, hoping that this one was “the first of many.” Students recommended discussions addressing concerns with Residential Life, a wider call for transparency and an analysis of Pratt’s current pedagogy and wealth distribution, among other demands of the Student Government Association’s Letter to the Pratt Administration.
Students also requested that in the future, the administration should speak less and allow students to take the lead. Some requested a student-moderated session in which a student takes on the responsibility of leading the discussion, or a student-led session in which the administration does not speak at all.
President Bronet closed with this statement: “We are listening, and we have much work to do.”
For further resources, see The Prattler’s article, “Ways to Take Action Against Police Brutality & Show Up for Racial Justice,” or the Student Government Association’s Resource Document.