Administration, DPS attempt balance between mission, safety

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One part of SLU’s Mission Statement is for the University to “welcome students, faculty and staff from all racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds and beliefs and create a sense of community that facilitates their development as men and women for others.” Another section of the Mission Statement says that the University “fosters programs that link University resources to local, national and international communities in collaborative efforts to alleviate ignorance, poverty, injustice and hunger; extend compassionate care to the ill and needy; and maintain and improve the quality of life for all persons.” When combined, the need for the University to welcome those from all different backgrounds and allow the University to become a conduit to discuss pertinent national issues, along with the desire to keep people safe, provided the backbone to the administration and Department of Public Safety’s response to the protestors on campus.

The protests began late on Sunday, Oct. 12 after the conclusion of an interfaith coalition addressing the recent events in Ferguson, Mo. held at Chaifetz Arena.  After the event, a large number of demonstrators gathered in the Shaw neighborhood, where Vonderrit Myers, Jr., was killed by a police officer, gathered and slowly marched towards SLU, eventually gathering near the clock tower on campus.

According to Dr. Fred Pestello, Saint Louis University President, the protests were completely unexpected. “We did not expect the protesters following the Chaifetz Arena event. Actually, the event at Chaifetz Arena was planned long before the shooting of Vonderrit Myers, Jr., in the Shaw neighborhood.”

By Monday morning, only approximately 20-25 protesters remained camped at the clock tower. Throughout the night, administration and DPS were in contact, and ultimately decided to allow the protestors to assemble peacefully, while attempting to understand the purposes of the protesters. However, the number one priority of the administration and DPS were to keep those involved safe, while also continuing to foster the Jesuit mission of SLU.

As the week unfolded, with protesters continuing to camp at the clock tower, joined by protesting students, DPS maintained a constant presence at the clock tower in order to ensure that the protests remained peaceful. Administration, meanwhile, realized the need for open dialogue, and by Tuesday, Oct. 14, had brought out Student Affairs leaders to promote discussion. In addition, a clock tower webcam was set up in order to improve the transparency of the situation.

Finally on Friday, Oct.17, after numerous dialogues at the clock tower and across campus, the protestors, with the aid of the administration, made the decision to permanently end their stay at the clock tower. The administration hopes for continued dialogue in the future and to be a model for change. According to Dr. Kent Porterfield, Vice President for Student Development, the administration “was trying to do what we believed was right, consistent with our beliefs as an institution and as a University.” Overall, all the administration aimed to uphold the Jesuit mission while ensuring safety on campus, and relied on the University’s values while determining what course of action to pursue.

Porterfield added that it was a difficult topic to address. “There are no simple solutions, and there would have been someone who disagreed with whatever decision we took. In the end, values helped us pick a course. We live in this community, and we are going to be here long past these demonstrations.”