Last Friday I witnessed something that I believe requires a response in these pages. I was standing in the lobby of a residence hall as the situation unfolded.
Due to the Owl Ball, students were required to present identification upon entry into the building. Of course this would come as a surprise to the average resident because almost no notification was given. It was at this point that a student walked into the building towards the elevator. He was not trying to evade the authorities, nor did he pose a substantial threat to campus security. However, an Institutional Security Officer (ISO) decided that this was his time to shine.
He proceeded to call out to the student. The young man did not hear the officer because he was wearing ear buds. The officer rudely got his attention and harshly requested to see identification. Obviously the student was not aware this was a problem. While reaching for his ID, he asked the officer why he needed to see it.
To which the officer said “You don’t need to know why I need to see it, just show me your ID.”
The student was perplexed by the tone and thought he was in trouble. For anyone present, it was merely a confused student not realizing that restrictions had been placed on his place of residence. The officer continued on with his tirade suggesting that the student go back to his room and read the handbook.
The student pushed back by saying “I don’t understand why you have to talk to me this way.”
The officer was upset by that comment and proceeded on with his lecture. He walked back to the desk and joked that this was going to be a good night.
Now that you know what happened, I’ll tell you what went wrong. First off, this is the United States of America and I believe citizens have a right to ask why they need to produce an ID. Our citizens should never fear the authorities. The officer’s assertion is foolish and I suggest he read the U.S. Bill of Rights.
Secondly, the entire situation was unprofessional and could have been avoided. It did not represent Westfield in a manner of which we could be proud. I’m not saying that the student should be forgiven for his ignorance (He is required to produce an ID if asked). However, last time I checked, we do not live in a police state. Most people are not accustomed to demands from a uniformed officer to produce means sufficient to prove their identity.
The officer did not act in a way that would earn respect from the community he currently serves. It is apparent that the incident was a mistake. I write this to highlight an error, not to cause harm to any individual. The enforcement of policy is not meant to be dramatic. I should point out that the officers of this campus handle themselves with dignity and respect. They go above and beyond to do the right thing, protecting us from the unknown, while dealing with intense situations.
This officer is probably a good and decent man that made a simple mistake. Some, but not all, students treat ISO’s awful and this may pervade the type of unprofessional behavior I describe. However, if it weren’t for the students, the officers would not have a job. The student pays thousands of dollars to live on campus. The student has taken the initiative to invest in a better education. If the officers of this campus expect better treatment, they might heed my advice.
Be professional; act with integrity, and as Abraham Lincoln once said, “American affection stems from the better angels of our nature.”
The students of this campus deserve better than to be treated as if they were children. But that means they should also step up and act like adults. The next time a situation like this takes place, I sincerely hope that the officer can control himself.
Again, I must reiterate that this letter is not meant to harm the officer, nor defend all students. Everyone makes mistakes and we must rebound from them with positive action. The law never represents emotion; it is clearly separated from our actions. Or at least it should be.
As a student leader, acting in my official capacity as an elected representative of the students on campus, I have a distinct obligation to write this letter. This ridiculous incident must not happen again. I expect better and we deserve better.