Racial Profiling Discussion and Conversation

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By Song My Hoang

On Tuesday, Oct. 29, the Office of Multicultural Affairs cosponsored a thought-provoking presentation and open discussion on profiling, titled “Under the Hoodie.”

Profiling is defined as the recording and analysis of a person’s psychological and behavioral characteristics, so as to assess or predict their capabilities in a certain sphere or to assist in identifying a particular subgroup of people.

Racial profiling is the discriminatory practice of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime or other wrongdoings based on the individual’s race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.

Under the Hoodie allowed five panelists to engage in an open dialogue with the audience regarding complicated and controversial issues.

Director of Multicultural Affairs Jason Benitez stated, “This conversation is one that needs to be had.”

Right from the beginning, the audience’s comfort levels were tested as they were asked to engage in profiling.

Benitez read five blurbs of information, each describing one of the five panelists. Based on a photo of the panelist, the audience was expected to use a clicker to select the blurb that best described each panelist.

The panelists consisted of: Assistant Director of Campus Safety Thomas Constantine; Kate Kozain ‘16, a female student and member of the U.S. Military; Alexandra Walters ‘14, a female student and co-president of the Black Student Union (BSU); Director of the Liberty Partnership Program at Schenectady County Community College Richard Smith, who was previously imprisoned but now pursuing a doctoral degree in social work; and Director of Intercultural Student Engagement at SUNY Albany Ekow King.

For three of the panelists, approximately 30 percent of the audience guessed the correct answer.

Less than 10 percent of the audience entered the correct answer regarding Kozain and her service in the military, with more than half the audience assuming that this information corresponded to a male panelist.

The talk addressed the question, “Why do we need to have this discussion about profiling?”

In response to this question, King shared a story about his first day at college. An African American raised in the Bronx, he was the first in his family to attend college. On King’s first day of college, he was stopped by a police officer, who questioned him until he showed his college ID. The police officer congratulated King for attending college and continued to have a conversation with him.

“Thank god that my earliest message was: You’re going to college. And not: You’re really a criminal. Do we want everyone to excel? We have to tell people that we expect excellence in order for them to excel,” said King.

Smith also explained, “The assumptions about an inferior race have been passed down over generations. Even today, individuals have to work harder to prove themselves because of immediate assumptions”.

“It is our obligation to have this conversation. We have to address this bias that existed before. It’s the ideology of racism that is inherent in our culture,” continued Smith.

Profiling is a global issue that needs to be dealt with in the Union community.

Benitez acknowledged, “We live in a society that tends to make judgments and assumptions. People often don’t go the extra mile to get to know a person and their stories.”

He mentioned that some profiling might happen at Union because the college is located in an urban area.  Sometimes students may make judgments regarding community members that walk through campus.

Benitez admitted that personal safety is always going to be an important notion at the forefront of our minds.

He elucidated, “Unfortunately, our judgments and actions can be guided by fear. I’d like students to challenge why that fear exists. Is it a legitimate fear? Is it a fear that stems from an inaccurate portrayal from the media or one’s lack of exposure?”

Benitez has worked with students that seem to visually fit society’s image of a dangerous individual. “But I know that is not who they are,” said Benitez.

“That’s the nature of stereotyping. We assume that everybody who comes from a certain background is the same. Stereotypes are often not fair and not true,” continued Benitez.

Benitez noticed that there is a portion of our student population that frequently attend events similar to Under the Hoodie.

These students are engaged and genuinely want to learn new and different aspects about religion, race and gender issues.

He wants to see the attendance and participation increase a little bit though. He does not think that enough of our students are taking full advantage of these opportunities.

Benitez claimed, “Very often, people don’t take much interest in issues that don’t directly affect them. Students should challenge themselves to go to events that they haven’t had exposure to. That’s where the real growth and understanding is going to occur.”

The beauty about living on a college campus is that we have a diverse offering of programs every week that are looking to expose students to new ideas.

Benitez concludes, “Students are encouraged to allow themselves to engage in uncomfortable discussions.  It’s about pushing your boundaries. Come to a program you don’t have any background about. It might just open your eyes and mind.”­

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