At approximately 6:40 p.m. [on Friday, April 11], I was standing at the smoking area between Underwood and the Courtyard Town Houses when suddenly, multiple California Highway Patrol vehicles came flying up Underwood Rd. toward Prospect Hill, some with lights and sirens in operation. I immediately called Public Safety to inquire about any possible threat to campus. Before I could finish my sentence, which began, “Hi, I’m in front of Underwood and there’s…” the gentleman who answered the phone replied, “Yeah, we got it,” and hung up without even knowing what I was actually calling for. While I was in fact calling about the police activity, it hypothetically could have been for anything, and to be met with such an abrupt, ignorant and inconsiderate response is inexcusable. It wasn’t until more than 30 minutes after I initially called Public Safety that I received some information. My partner received an official warning via text message, which stated, “Mills College alert: There is an active incident in progress on the Mills campus. Shelter in place until further notice. This is a precaution.” I was rather puzzled by the wording of that notification, specifically its ending. “This is a precaution” makes it seem as though there isn’t any problem. As my frustration mounted, we got yet another notification via the Mills College Alert System, this time via email, which read, “Mills College alert: There is an active incident on campus. Shelter in place until further notice. There is no confirmation there is a concrete problem. This is a precaution.” My frustration turned to shock as I was reading, “There is no confirmation [that] there is a concrete problem.” Excuse me? There are dozens of police flying through campus setting a perimeter, and a police helicopter flying so low that it looks as though it is going to land on Holmgren Meadow. Is that not a concrete problem? I think it is. In February of last year, The Campanil quoted Niviece Robinson, the Director of Public Safety, saying, “It’s really important when something’s going on, you want to give the correct information.” I couldn’t agree more, and it is shame that providing correct information is still an issue for the Department, now close to 18 months after that article was written.
While events spilling onto campus may be rare, those occurring in alarming proximity to campus are certainly not. Over just the past two and a half years I have lived on campus, I have heard gunshots close to a hundred times, sometimes so close that I couldn’t believe they weren’t on campus. Events like the April 2013 shooting and subsequent death of Lionel Fluker, a 54-year-old former Oakland Tribune freelance photographer who suffered a bullet to the brain while driving past the Valero station on Seminary Avenue adjacent to campus, have revived yet another on-again off-again debate. Does the Department of Public Safety need to utilize its alert system for events that occur off campus? My question is, why wouldn’t they? In this case, DPS did utilize the system, nearly two hours later. I don’t expect Public Safety to have to notify us about what is happening by the Coliseum or in West Oakland, but when it’s happening right outside our gates, we deserve to know and shouldn’t have to google “shooting mills college” to find out what’s happening outside our homes. And, as we all know, major media outlets are seldom informative of what is occurring in blighted urban communities, such as East Oakland–all the more reason for DPS to divulge this under reported information.
I think the common thread in all this is the failure of Mills College, especially DPS, to acknowledge Oakland, specifically East Oakland, and incorporate what is happening on our streets in the dialogue that occurs on campus and how it relates to the idea of social justice. The refusal of the College and DPS to report incidents like the ones I have described and, more importantly, the poverty that exists in Oakland which fuels the crime, perpetuates forms of oppression that other Mills students and I actively learn to challenge and change in the name of Social Justice. Like it or not, we are all East Oakland residents, and we should be involved with what’s happening in our community, both on and off campus as should the College and all of its departments. We may not all be in a position to, or care to get personally involved, but we all deserve to know what’s going on when it’s going on, whether it occurs on campus or off. College students, staff, faculty and residents don’t exist in some sort of a vacuum that excludes us from anything beyond the gates, and it’s a shame that Public Safety seems to think so.
I work for Bon Appetit in Founders Commons, my partner is a Mills student, and our six year old daughter attends the Mills College Children’s School. We live here and, in good faith, entrust our safety regarding incidents that occur on campus to those tasked with ensuring it, The Department of Public Safety, which on this occasion severely dropped the ball. Thirty minutes is enough time for a whole lot to happen, but apparently not enough time to be well informed, as that is still yet to occur.