Documentary explores racial tension at Wake Forest

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“I’ve had both positive and negative experiences with campus police officers,” says Jelani Ince (Class of 2014), an African-American student at Wake Forest University in this documentary made by students. “The more positive ones have been because of my position as residential advisor on campus. Once I leave the doors of my residence hall, I am just another student. I was sitting outside Luter [Residence Hall] and a police officer walked up to me and asked me if I stole the candy that was in my hand. He automatically asked if I had any ID, and when I asked him why, he automatically addressed me in an aggressive tone, and said, ‘How dare you ask that question of me? I ask the questions and you don’t, so give me your ID.”

The documentary, #WakeUpWakeForest — published on YouTube on Oct. 1 — chronicles heavy-handed police response to parties organized by a black fraternity earlier this year, and a town hall organized by students to confront racism on campus, which prompted the university to bring in an outside agency to review police practices. The recent history documented in the video provides a backdrop for yesterday’s story in Triad City Beat about a recent white fraternity party that further antagonized students of color. After an African-American residential advisor filed a bias report about the party, a spate of anonymous hateful messages appeared on social media.

Many students of color at Wake Forest University have reported personal experiences of apparent racial profiling in their encounters with campus police officer, both in the documentary and in interviews with Triad City Beat, that echo themes that recently emerged in Ferguson, Mo. The problem is compounded by institutional differences in how social life on campus is policed according to race. White fraternities through their demographic size and relative wealth are able to finance lounges, where their parties are treated as private. Black fraternities, because of their lack of demographic clout and financial resources, are forced to hold their parties in public venues, subject to police control. It’s a setup for disproportionate police contact and arrests.

“When there’s a large group of white students it’s like them just being rowdy and having a good time and being crazy and ‘Oooh college,’ but when it’s a large group of students of color and black students in particular, it’s like, ‘There’s a riot,’ ‘It’s crazy out here,’ ‘We gotta call Winston-Salem PD’ and all these things,” Melvin Washington (Class of 2014) says in the documentary. “What part of officer training teaches people how to proceed like, I don’t know, human behavior?”

As student Nina Foster says in a poem that provides the creative spine for #WakeUpWakeForest, “There are different worlds within Wake, all viable, but not all visible. The one your cheerful tour guide sells you isn’t the same one you’ll get when you get here.”