The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

Students complain of racial profiling at MSA event

Two years after the uproar regarding the use of metal detectors at a lecture by former Black Panther Angela Davis, issues have risen once again. The recent controversy comes after the Department of Public Safety chose to use magnetometers at an event hosted by the Muslim Students’ Association on April 3.

The event, titled “Becoming Closer to Allah,” featured a lecture from Shaykh Dr. Nadeem Qureshi and was described as being a forum for Muslim converts to “discuss their spiritual journey towards Islam.” Approximately 70 people were in attendance.

According to University policy, metal detectors are to be used for events at which more than 250 people are expected. The policy, originally a Public Safety policy, has been in effect since at least 2002, and was revised in 2005. It was announced as a University policy in the Fall 2006 semester.

Thomas Lawrence, vice president of Public Safety, stated that his department determines the need for use of magnetometers based on information given to them by the organizations hosting the events.

“Unfortunately, we’re limited to the information that we’re given and what people expect,” Lawrence said. “That’s what we go off of, unless we have a prior history. In the past there were also problems where people would not put any number down on a pass and then we’d have to reach out and find out how many people [they expected].”

Lawrence said that the paperwork supplied by MSA stated that they expected a large group to attend, though he was unable to provide any supporting documentation.

“They submitted a form to Public Safety that said they were going to have 300 people,” Lawrence said. “We confirmed that with someone in Student Life before the event. That’s why we scheduled the Public Safety people, so we would adhere to the policy.”

Lawrence added that Denise Vencak-Toner, executive director of Public Safety, also confirmed the number with the department of Student Life.

However, paperwork provided by Fran Goldberg, a University staff member responsible for calendar clearance for all events and dated March 19, two weeks before the event, states that only 100 students were expected.

The paperwork originally cited an anticipated audience of 250 people, but was changed on March 19 to the final number of 100.

In addition to the signed and dated Student Life Event Reservation Form, an e-mail from Nashia Whittenburg, a Student Life liaison, to Golderg and Vencak-Toner, confirmed the change of expected crowd size.

According to Zakir Choudhury, activities coordinator for MSA, the number had been changed after the original event, scheduled for March 16, which was canceled because of snow.

“The original event was cancelled because of the snow storm and we were expecting a lot of people, but for the second event we weren’t expecting as many people,” Choudhury explained.

In the past, the policy had not been strictly adhered to, as speakers such as Cornel West, Spike Lee, Steven Pinker and Senator Bill Bradley had been presented without use of magnetometers. Pinker spoke to a crowd of more than 500, while West had a similar audience. Lawrence explained this apparent disregard of policy by saying that it was possible that the organizations hosting the speakers did not anticipate large groups and therefore Public Safety did not have reason to send officers with metal detectors.

Before the policy was publicized in 2004, following the uproar after the Davis lecture, students assumed that the decision to use magnetometers was arbitrary and that the use of the devices was racially biased. Some students have expressed similar concerns following the incident at the MSA event, though many are waiting before passing judgment.

“I don’t want to jump to any conclusions,” said MSA member Rifat Islam. “Obviously, some people could think it was a race thing. Even some of the [Event Management Staff] said it could be a race issue. They said this shouldn’t have happened, it’s not protocol. It’s never happened to any other organization to this extent.”

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