By Eli Hughes–
A vague RAVE alert sent campus-wide at 2:19 a.m. Sept. 10 potentially endangered students and resulted in an almost immediate apology.
The alert said: “A black male wearing a red hoodie ran from Clark County Indiana Police and is possibly on campus. If you see someone matching this description- call ULPD or LMPD.”
Faculty and students said the vague description was potentially dangerous to black students on campus.
Three U of L officials released statements the morning after the alert went out to apologize for the incident.
“This morning a RAVE Alert went out asking our campus to be on the lookout for a Black male in a red hoodie, ” President Neeli Bendapudi said in her statement. “That is not an anti-racist statement. While the description may have been true, it is too vague to be of any help and it perpetuates negative stereotypes (especially on a campus whose colors are red and black and whose student population is proudly more than 12% Black) that make some members of our campus community targets. There is no excuse for that.”
Bendapudi apologized to those who were negatively affected by the alert and promise that the university would do better in the future.
ULPD Chief Gary Lewis took responsibility for the mistake and said the alert was unapproved and did not fit the criteria for a RAVE alert.
“The lack of oversight in approval of the message, the tone and the ambiguous wording all potentially contributed to making some individuals on our campus that already suffer from the trauma of racial stereotyping less safe and not more,” Lewis said. “Further, our policy is to use RAVE Alerts for law enforcement updates only when there is either 1) a serious crime, or 2) an immediate threat to our campus. This situation did not meet either criteria.”
Dr. Kaila Story, a professor of Women and Gender Studies and Pan African Studies at U of L, posted her frustration to Facebook.
“These vague RAVE alerts have always put marginalized groups on our campus at risk. BIPOC faculty, students and staff on our campus already have to navigate racialized and gendered microaggressions in almost every space on our yard, and when alerts like these come through our phones and emails they inevitably invite more scrutiny and harm to these already vulnerable groups,” Story said.
“It wasn’t just Black male bodies that were put at risk, it was also Black bodies that registered to onlookers as masculine, non-binary and/or masculine as well,” Story said. “So many folks were put at risk.”
One student who was hurt and disappointed when he saw the RAVE alert was Torien Miles, a senior at U of L. “I’m in the marching band and we had just had a performance the day before and I was on campus, as a black male wearing red. I wear red all the time,” Miles said.
“So I fit the description just a couple hours before that RAVE alert went out. And if had gone out, instead of 2 a.m. at 8 p.m. or something I would have been on campus fitting that description.”
Miles believes that if the university is going to stay true to their anti-racist ideas, there needs to be actions taken, and not just apologies after the fact. “That email is a good step in the right direction but it takes a lot more visible action and a lot more workable action to make these things right,” he said.
Faye Jones, senior associate vice president for diversity and equity said, “As the mother of children that fit the description of the RAVE Alert that went out this morning, I am sitting with the enormous weight and frustration of yet another example of how our systems can fail our young Black and Brown students, faculty and staff. The system unquestionably failed this morning.”
Jones said she would be working with her colleagues and university stakeholders to prevent this issue from happening again. She also apologized and offered support to anyone who was hurt by the mistake.
Story agrees that this mistake goes against the anti-racist goals the university has.
“If U of L truly aims to be seen and regarded as a premier anti-racist institution these types of incidents cannot continue to happen. Their needs to be structural changes behind those aims. I also think that financial allocations need to be adjusted within the University to prioritize departments, programs, and initiatives that have always been invested in teaching anti-racist praxis,” she said.
The Student Government Association ‘Top Four’ also believes the university needs to be held accountable for this incident. In a statement posted on social media they said, “The Student Government Association shares your frustrations regarding this RAVE alert incident as well as the repeated alerts that went out a couple weeks ago regarding protests in the area. Campus safety includes all of us, and we cannot achieve that when we put our Black students at risk.”
“Please know that SGA has been working with ULPD and university administration on this issue. We are committed to holding university leadership accountable to this repeated issue.”
Graphic by Joseph Garcia // The Louisville Cardinal