By Eric Jankiewicz and Taja Whitted
A large group of students bristling with anger stormed into the last town hall meeting of this semester. They were ruffled up about, what they saw as, John Jay’s security abusing power.
On the listening end of the meeting sat President Jeremy Travis, Student Government President Whitney Brown and Faculty Senate member Karen Kaplowitz for the town hall meeting on April 18. Although these three were officially the ones responding to the aggrieved students, most of their comments were directed at the newly appointed Public Safety Director Stephen Hollowell, who sat in the audience.
Among the many sometimes biting criticisms, there were a few women in the audience that complained about the Peace Officers making unwanted sexual advances to them.
“I come to school to be free from stop and frisk, but when I’m being looked at and sexually harassed, I don’t feel safe with CUNY officers and Public Safety officials, “student Alyssa Rodriguez said.
One of the main critics was student Geraldine Denasty. Due to many problems she had over the school year with the Public Safety department, Denasty decided to corral students with similar problems into the town hall meeting.
Denasty, who is also president of the Radio club, said to The Sentinel, “At first it started with little things like lack of customer service” and then she noticed that her club events were being tacked with a higher than usual security bill.
As a requirement for events, clubs must have a security presence. This presence comes with a price billed directly to the club holding any event. Last semester a security presence would cost somewhere around $800 but this semester it was raised, without any notice to clubs, to around $1,200.
The town hall event wasn’t Denasty’s first attempt to seek out answers. She contacted David Rivera, assistant director of Public Safety, and Brown. But neither gave her a “concrete answer.”
Denasty then began to talk to other students who were part of clubs and they all came to a consensus.
“We all realized that Public Safety was the core problem,” she said.
Like Denasty, student Clinton Dyre felt as though Public Safety’s actions were not being properly articulated to the student body.
“Student’s feel as if they are not getting their voice heard,” Dyre said during the town hall meeting. “We need to eliminate the animosity between public safety and students. For example, an event was held in the multipurpose room and it required 13 officers for 120 people. How does that match up?” He felt as though this high presence of security was unduly overwhelming.
After patiently listening to all of the students who wanted to talk, John Jay’s leaders responded.
“This doesn’t feel like our home anymore,” Brown said, echoing the sentiments of students like Rodriguez and others. In the same breath she added, “I think our Public Safety Officers have been doing a good enough job.”
Yet it is this exact “good enough job” that led estranged students like Denasty and Dyre into action in the first place.
Travis saw the need to further pursue this issue and suggested, “If the student’s would like, we can hold a separate meeting to address the issue.”
Vice President Berneca Johnson Eanes, who had been in the audience, was appointed to serve as something of an intermediary between Denasty and Dire, who were chosen to represent the student body, and the school.
Eanes said, “Were still getting used to the new building and turnout. More people are coming to events which lead to more public safety officials. Dr. Hollowell has been discussing it with student affairs, and we will try to solve the issue soon.”
Travis set a deadline of two weeks for the two students and Eanes to try and devise some sort of solution to ease tensions and pacify student complaints.
After the meeting, Denasty seemed pleased with the meeting. “Today was a breath of victory,” she said. “It’s a sweet success that will hopefully turn into something.”