Starting this semester, the college has established the position of Community Safety Assistants (CSA) to take the place of last year’s Community Safety Ambassadors (also, CSA) in response to student feedback of feeling overly surveilled by the Amherst College Police Department (ACPD). The administration has not officially announced what role the new position will play in the campus experience, leaving the student body with confusion and remaining concerns.
The new position is part of the college’s attempt at acting on their promise to “adopt a new approach to public safety,” as President Biddy Martin announced in an email on May 10. While the original CSA role existed as a one-year position designed to assist with “interventions around mask-wearing and other Covid protocols,” the new Community Safety Assistants “will take on the role ACPD has done historically,” said Dean of Students Liz Agosto, in an effort to “reduce the presence of ACPD.”
Community Advisors (CA) were informed of the new role in one of their pre-semester training sessions, during which they were told that CSAs would be patrolling residence halls from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day. Alarmed by this level of surveillance, CAs were concerned that the new CSAs would make students more uncomfortable and be detrimental to the overall residential experience. As information of the new role spread, students in the informal, college-wide GroupMe even expressed that the addition of the role would turn the campus into a “police state.”
In a statement to The Student, Agosto said there are a lot of “misconceptions” about the role of the new CSAs. She stated that, contrary to popular belief, CSAs will not be conducting rounds in dorms; that responsibility will be left primarily to CAs and also to Community Development Coordinators (CDC), who supervise CAs and other community programs. However, CSAs may go into common rooms or “respond to noise complaints.”
There will be five CSAs on campus “24 hours a day to respond” if a student “calls dispatch and needs assistance,” a responsibility that was fulfilled by armed ACPD officers before Covid.
According to CA Matthew Chun ’24, CAs were informed on Aug. 24 that “CSAs and CSOs [Community Safety Officers, who handle some patrolling affairs of the college] would be taking over much of the role of ACPD and would also be in charge of monitoring students for problematic behaviors.” The stated role of CSOs caused particular concern to CAs as “CSOs report to ACPD directly.”
Chun stated that he feels “extremely uncomfortable if grown adults I do not know enter my or my residents’ space” and due to his past experiences with ACPD, he does “not wish anyone who reports to ACPD [to come] near [his] building whatsoever.”
Chun also said that most CAs share his concern about “the creation of a ‘police state’ on campus,” worried it will cause “discomfort, disproportionate displacement of communities of color and poor and disparate enforcement.” He also believes the presence of CSAs and CSOs in dorms would not increase safety “because unsafe actions and events will instead be moved off campus or in unenforceable locations, threatening the safety of our communities more.”
CAs were also told this dorm surveillance is “an attempt at a permanent change.” While Chun suspects the administration has other motives for these changes (i.e. shutting down parties), he states these suspicions are irrelevant: “Their motives and intentions aren’t what matters, it’s their actions and policies that should be criticized.”
Agosto responded to suspicions that CSAs were installed to shut down parties, saying that “The goal has never been to shut down parties,” and they are relying on student partnership to ensure students are engaging in “safe behaviors.”
However, Agosto did say that “Safety teams'' have “dispersed parties” that weren't “appropriately-sized” and have ensured that students are complying with mask-wearing protocols. Agosto stated they are focusing on community safety rather than discipline in enforcing these measures, and no one, including the CSAs, is trying to get students in trouble, saying “that’s not real.”
Many members of The Union of Student Workers at Amherst College (USWAC) have expressed similar concerns. All USWAC leaders either declined requests for comment or did not respond to requests for comment.
Last year, CDCs were responsible for responding to many student calls. However, with all students back on campus, ResLife needs to have CDCs focused on working with CAs and communities and thus don’t have as much time to be on-call, so the CSA’s will now be fulfilling that responsibility. However, Agosto stated there are times where ACPD will still respond for things related to “criminal activity or life safety.”
Agosto believes this change is an important one, saying “There is a broader conversation about the right structure for campus safety and intervention. In the meantime, there is a need for active professional response to students in need. We hear concern about armed officers and want students to feel like they can call and get good, safe responses.”