Office of Inclusive Excellence

The Future of Campus Safety: an Abolitionist Perspective

May 2, 2023

My career at CSUMB began in January 2020 and was immediately followed by the early impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement. Since then, I have engaged with communities impacted by police violence: Black, Brown, and Indigenous (BIPOC), LGBTQIA+, disabled, unhoused, and immigrants. Through my education in policing history and as an advocate for marginalized and intersectional diverse communities, I have learned that we must prioritize the people most vulnerable to systemic and interpersonal violence before we can consider a community “safe.” This piece gives my abolitionist perspective on campus safety and police by highlighting an incident in 2021. I then examine the history of policing in the CSU system, CSUMB’s potential to emphasize community care over carceral solutions, and what solutions can look like.

On February 10, 2021, campus police arrested a former student living on East Campus, Thomas Shefflette. The police involvement began as an eviction for expulsion. Campus police found Shefflette possessing a 9mm handgun, AR-15 rifle parts, and ghost gun parts he was selling. Nazi paraphernalia–swastikas and a photo of Adolf Hitler--were strewn across his apartment. The officers arrested Shefflette for weapons on campus. When questioned about the Nazi paraphernalia, Earl Lawson, CSUMB’s public safety chief, stated that they “[had] not found any evidence that the resident–or former resident–holds any affiliation with hate groups.” Note: The chief could not identify a Nazi as associated with a hate group. 

Consider that this was not the first time that Shefflette’s radical and extremist behavior had been brought to the attention of campus police or administration. Students had reported Shefflette making disparaging remarks about race. An underage student reported him to campus representatives when he invited her to drink with him in his dorm. However, these instances and others were not followed with accountability, as police, RAs, and campus staff chose to give the benefit of the doubt to a white supremacist despite the risk of danger to those targeted by Nazi ideology. When police were confronted with evidence that suggested Shefflette’s intentions toward Jewish, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and disabled classmates, the evidence was dismissed for the sake of maintaining a negative peace by ensuring that the campus remained a “safe space for all.” I argue that creating a campus safe for Nazi ideology creates a hostile environment for students whose communities have been historically targeted by systemic genocide. The police do not have the tools to identify or dismantle white supremacy when their institution is vital to maintaining white supremacist systems. 

Campus police have not always been a reality. An excellent resource to recount the history of campus policing on university campuses and within the CSU system is “Policing the People’s University” by Anath Akhila and Priscilla Leiva. Their article details the rise in policing on CSU campuses as a response to students peacefully protesting the Vietnam War and advocating for ethnic studies curriculum. In 1968, the 134-day student and faculty strike faced off with the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) at San Francisco State University (SFSU) as the climax of this issue. At this time, the chairman of the SFSU board of trustees, Donald Hart, emphasized “law and order” policies and gave campus police permission to use force by any means necessary against students and faculty. This rhetoric normalized and reinforced police presence on campuses moving forward. The five-month standoff of 1968-69 led to a bloodbath on SFSU’s campus. With the unbridled blessing of then-Governor Ronald Reagan, SFSU President Hayakawa, and the CSU Board of Trustees, 450-700 SFPD officers were stationed on campus and attacked students with batons and firearms and one by one arrested 500 students within 134 days. The message was clear: protect property over life. Escalate retaliatory action against promising community changemakers. Devalue the heart and spine of our institution–students and faculty. 

Since implementing campus police, we have seen bloated police budgets; increased militarization, including an AR-15 and handgun for each officer; and increased officer numbers. This is exacerbated by 24-hour surveillance of students and staff on every CSU campus statewide. These expensive investments, paired in context with diminished faculty wages, underutilized counseling services, and lack of investment in housing and food security, paint a picture that represents who and what campus administrative bodies prioritize and value: profit and property over student and faculty wellness and safety. And where does the funding for this come from? Tax dollars and student tuition. 

CSUMB carries the legacy and systemic framework of administrative decisions made decades prior. This campus, administration, and President Quiñones have the opportunity to make bold choices that prioritize the wellness of its most marginalized students impacted by carceral systems: Black, Brown, and Indigenous, LGBTQIA+, disabled, unhoused, and immigrant communities. The Black Lives Matter movement has drawn national attention to the need to reinvest in community safety practices, such as counseling services and student-led security initiatives. The Black Student Union, California Faculty Association (CFA), Students for Quality Education (SQE), and other campus groups have strongly advocated these innovative alternatives. The CFA and SQE, a coalition of students and faculty, recently ran a successful campaign to pass Assembly Bill 1997, implementing a student-led crisis response team on each campus as an alternative to a response to crises rooted in campus policing. 

Further initiatives that promote campus safety include addressing food and housing insecurity, wi-fi hotspots, laptops, and mental health services–all of which are underfunded and can be made possible by divesting from campus police. This intersectional approach to campus safety and wellness can only be achieved by emphasizing those most impacted by racialized violence and class issues perpetuated by the carceral state and enforced by police. When equity and access to food, housing, and other basic needs are met, crime and violence decrease, and students' and faculty's safety and mental health increase.

Ezra Lambert
CSUMB Alum, Bachelor of Arts in Social and Behavioral Sciences & Humanities and Communications, former SQE organizer

Ananth, A. L., & Leiva, P. (2019). Policing the people’s university: The precarity of sanctuary in the California State University system. Social Justice, 46(4 (158)), 107–120.

Conrad, C. (2021, March 19). Weapons arrest at east campus housing unnerves CSUMB students. KSBW Action News 8. 

Duan, M. (2021, March 21). By not notifying the campus community about a weapons arrest, CSUMB missed out on an opportunity to build trust. Monterey County Weekly.

Niekerken, B. V. (2018). How SF State’s bloody strikes changed academia and nation 50 years ago: Recently rediscovered photos show the violence on the San Francisco State College campus and the savagery of police. The San Francisco Chronicle.