President Elam responds to a serious issue on campus regarding unathorized attire.
To the Occidental Community:
We write to inform you of a serious issue that was brought to our attention yesterday. While on duty and in uniform, one of our Campus Safety officers was seen on campus wearing attire that is unauthorized by the College: a face mask depicting the flag associated with the controversial “Thin Blue Line” movement. We appreciate everyone who contacted us about this, as this conduct directly violated Campus Safety department policy. The mask in question is not authorized.
Most importantly, by wearing this particular mask on duty, this officer undermined the mission of Campus Safety and that of Occidental College. The mask asserts a political sentiment that works against the ongoing efforts of the College towards unifying our campus and holding us to our promise of racial justice and equity. As last week’s assault on the U.S. Capitol made abundantly clear, the “Thin Blue Line” flag and rhetoric have been associated with members of the radical right who promote white supremacy. The employee in question maintains that this was not the message he was trying to convey, but the destructive impact and long association of the imagery with racism overwhelm any stated intention.
This incident is very concerning for a number of reasons. Not only was students’ sense of personal safety violated; this incident provides us with a reminder about the importance of our ongoing efforts to cultivate a stronger relationship between students and the College.
Human Resources and Director Tanksley are reviewing the incident to determine any necessary action, consistent with departmental policy and procedures, and with keen appreciation for the context in which this incident occurred, especially in terms of campus climate. We have already begun discussing this incident with every member of Campus Safety and taken it as a call to enhance bias training so that everyone fully understands what is at stake. It’s important to note that concerns related to bias, equity, and justice will be at the very top of the agenda for the Campus Safety Advisory Committee when this important body resumes its work with the start of spring semester.
We will continue to pay close attention to our campus environment, and will respond immediately to any further incidents, as they conflict with our stated community commitment to promote equity and justice.
Harry J. Elam, Jr.
Director of Campus Safety