Opinion: I haven’t felt safe on campus in a year — arming AUPD won’t change that
The Class of 2026 has never caught a break; neither have POC on campus
It was moving day of my freshman year at American University, and I was sitting in the passenger seat, listening to the newest playlist I had curated, while the line of cars moved abysmally slow. As we inched closer to Anderson Hall, which would become my residence hall that year, I realized what was causing the traffic: a line of protesters advocating for workers’ rights at the University. When I stepped onto the Letts-Anderson quad for the very first time, a protester handed me a pamphlet.
“Welcome to AU,” the person said.
From the beginning, my idea of the University was etched with complexity. From day one, I understood that, at AU, if you believed in something strongly enough, you protested about it. As a freshman, I was excited about the prospect of advocating for my beliefs. I was looking at my new school with rose-colored glasses.
All of that changed with the sexual assault in Leonard Hall last October. When a women’s floor at Leonard Hall was infiltrated, leading to assault, the entire campus became different for me. I use the word ‘different’ because there are two colors to my memories of AU before and after the assault: bright and plucky, juxtaposed with dark and scary. Less than a week later, someone attempted to break into my room. From that moment, I stopped feeling safe at the University — a feeling that has never left me entirely and led to me ultimately moving off campus.
That leads to Oct. 4. A campus-wide email was sent out from Bronté Burleigh-Jones, the University’s chief financial officer, about campus safety developments: “One of several questions we will explore is whether AUPD officers should be armed with lethal force weapons.”
When the Leonard Hall assault occurred, I questioned the effectiveness of AUPD. If they are here to protect us, how could they have failed so miserably? The Class of 2026 has been at the University for roughly one year now. In that year, our trust in the sanctity of safety on campus has been destroyed. I don’t feel safe on campus. After the assault, I stopped going to class, I stopped walking at night and I double-locked my door every night.
Was AUPD there to protect me when someone tried to enter my room? Was AUPD there for the other girl in my residence hall whose peephole was forcibly dismantled the same night? Where was AUPD when we needed them? And why should we trust them with weapons now?
It isn’t just the assault and the ensuing feeling of unsafety that led to my distrust of AUPD. I am a Black woman from the suburbs of a predominantly white town. Before I was even old enough to drive, my mother taught my brother and I that if a police officer pulls you over, you always do what they say, because who knows? Maybe they’re trigger-happy that day. It’s a message most — if not all — people of color, especially Black people, have dealt with in this country. Our campus lost its sense of safety for me the night I heard my dorm door jiggle, the night I reported what had happened and the night that no perpetrator was ever found.
We expect that police are there to protect us. That is a white lie — emphasis on the white. How many names of Black men killed by the police have we seen in the news since George Floyd’s death? We should not forget when last semester during finals season when a Black man with an Afro was seen going into a class, asking for finals’ dates at Kerwin, and people assumed he was a school shooter. The problem that followed this was that any 5-foot-9 Black man with an Afro was viewed as a threat. This ambiguity of viewing suspects by their skin color is dangerous — the type of danger that leads to POC being shot.
I have not felt safe at AU since the first month of my freshman year. I almost transferred from AU out of fear. To arm AUPD is to damn POC. Not only will there be a factor of feeling terrified around gunned officers on campus, but there is the anxiety that one day, you could just be a Black person in the wrong place, wrong time — and you could lose your life.
Sophia Joseph is a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs and columnist for The Eagle.
This article was edited by Jelinda Montes, Alexis Bernstein, Zoe Bell and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Charlie Mennuti.