Visiting Latinx student reports assault by DPS officer; Paxson and Latinx community respond

Around 12:30 a.m. Saturday morning outside Machado House, a senior delegate for this weekend’s Latinx Ivy League Conference was reportedly verbally harassed by two Department of Public Safety officers and then physically assaulted by one of the officers. Geovanni Cuevas, the student in question, was visiting from Dartmouth University and was staying in Machado House with a friend.

As a result of Cuevas’ experience, the Latinx Conference attendees cancelled planned events and discussions, and instead arranged an open meeting with President Christina Paxson P’19 and Mark Porter, Chief of Police for the Department of Public Safety. Following this meeting, both Russell Carey and President Paxson sent emails to the Brown community last night acknowledging the incident. Today, the Latinx Council convened again to discuss Paxson’s written plan for the University’s repsonse.

The meeting Saturday afternoon began at 1 p.m, with Paxson, Porter and Latinx delegates and supporters gathered in a crowded classroom in Salomon. Delegates formally presented Paxson with a list of demands to create a safe campus for students of color.

Paxson began by stating, “This will mainly be a time for listening, at least on my part.” Cuevas then gave the room his account of the incident outside Machado, explaining that he was “outside of the Machado party when a drunk student, stumbled outside.” Cuevas explained that the student “was confronted with flashlights and inappropriate touching” by the two DPS officers securing the event, “to which I had a very visceral response and said, ‘Hey, that’s inappropriate, you shouldn’t touch him like that.'”

The two officers then approached Cuevas and “proceeded to tell me that I was trespassing, despite the fact that I was a guest, hosted in that very house. As the situation escalated, I saw that my friends were uncomfortable, so I removed myself, but they told me I couldn’t come back to the house where I was being hosted. Obviously, I said that’s not going to happen, I’m sleeping here.”

When Cuevas went back in to the party through the back door, and went downstairs to find his host, he recalls that he “caught the attention of the security guard who was there.”  “Before I could even utter a sentence, I was grabbed, thrown up against the wall, thrown to the floor, told I was resisting when I wasn’t, scrapped on my face, told I was going to get pepper-sprayed,” he explained. “I was handcuffed and taken outside Machado, and detained there, until Brown students could come and verify my identity.”

Delegates of the Latinx Ivy League Conference then explained that the goal of their conference is “to empower the Latino students who have overcome cultural and structural challenges to attend Ivy League institutions.” Every year, around 80 students from these universities congregate to discuss “difficult topics that include race, gender, and socioeconomic factors effecting the Latino community in the United States.” However, the delegates had suspended the discussion of this year’s theme, Unity through Generations: the Past, Present and Future of Latino Leadership, to instead draft a list of demands for President Paxson.

“One of our delegates suffered violence at the hands of law enforcement hired by Brown. This incident recalls a longer history of institutionalized violence against communities of color,” said one Latinx delegate. The demands for President Paxson included:

  • Sensitivity training for all Brown DPS officers that addresses the intersections of identity and criminalization of Brown students of color, which would be facilitated by faculty and student experts on campus.
  • To increase diversity of DPS staff
  • Accountability for Saturday morning’s incident, including an apology to the student and broader community
  • Greater communication requirements between hosts of events and event security, and for hosts to be notified when situations escalate between security and visitors
  • A public apology from Paxson to both the Brown community and other Ivy League universities whose students had attended the conference, notifying everyone of this incident
  • Reimbursing the organizers for the cancelled Latinx Conference, and funding from Brown for the next conference

In response to students’ complaints that the officer should be immediately suspended, Porter explained that under union laws, they could not suspend an officer without investigation. Porter said he could not give out the name of the officer involved, to which one student asked, “Why does DPS protect police officers instead of students?”

Many students at Saturday afternoon’s meeting expressed concerns and frustrations with the greater issue of racial profiling with regards to DPS and Brown security. “I don’t appreciate you sending out emails saying ‘medium to dark complexion’ [with regards to suspects in DPS cases]. You could be medium to dark complexion. I could be medium to dark complexion. Anyone in this room could be ‘medium to dark’ complexion,” said one student to Porter. “You keep mentioning you have diversity training once a year. Given last night’s incident, it’s pretty clear it’s largely ineffective,” said another.

“I’m so sorry that you’re going through this,” said Paxson to the meeting’s attendees. “I can’t say that enough.”

“We’ve been telling you about this for three years. You’re not that sorry,” a student called back.

Following this meeting, yesterday evening Carey’s email described Cuevas’ experience with the DPS officer to the Brown community:

The interaction became heated and physical and the student was restrained and placed in handcuffs. Shortly thereafter the student was released and no arrest was made and no criminal charges were filed. While the investigation is being conducted, the officer involved will perform administrative duties and will not be on patrol.

President Paxson followed with an email around three hours after Carey’s, titled “Actions on today’s incident.” Paxson reaffirmed her apology to the attendees of the Latinx Conference, and extended “this apology to our entire campus community, especially to our students of color — our African American, Latinx, Native American, Asian, Pacific Islander and multiracial students — for the hurt, anger, confusion and frustration that this incident has contributed to our ongoing discussions about racism and inclusion at Brown.”

Paxson committed to reimbursing Latinx, as well as funding the next conference, and confirmed that an investigation of Saturday’s incident has begun, with the officer in question on desk duty until further notice. As the concern that Saturday’s incident reflected a much larger issue of racial profiling at Brown was brought up throughout the afternoon’s meeting, Paxson stated that the administration “will examine the need for additional diversity and sensitivity training for all officers in the Department of Public Safety, who currently undergo annual diversity training.”

In response to the incident, many Brown students have begun sharing statuses of support to better publicize the issue of violence against people of color, using the hashtag, #IStandWithGeo.

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A video of Satuday afternoon’s open meeting with President Paxson, Mark Porter, and the Latinx delegates is available below.

Around two dozen students from the Brown University Latinx Council met today to discuss this weekend’s events. One of the coordinators, Rudy Martin ‘16, said they called the meeting today to address this “certainly stressful time” with “all that happened yesterday.”

Today’s meeting was meant to begin the process of setting deadlines for the demands the delegates set up. The Council also wanted to open up the floor for Latinx students to add onto the list, encouraging people to list Brown-specific demands. The Council leaders expect the LILC list to be completed during the next couple of days.

They opened up the floor for students to discuss responses to President Paxson’s e-mail. Martin said that the e-mail, for him, was not specific enough. Kiki Tapeiro ‘17 said it was nice to see Paxon at least trying, but that “it doesn’t end here.”  Students expressed concerns about the e-mail’s point on sensitivity training for DPS officers, saying the phrasing of “examining the need” for additional sensitivity training leaves open the possibility that the university will declare there is no need for it.

Martin said the events of this weekend made up “such a special moment… When everyone instantly dropped everything to organize and mobilize for this student and it brought everyone together. If you were in that room with Paxson you could feel the pain, and the black students were there with us, the students of color stood there with us. Our school is very unique in this kind of solidarity, they don’t have this at other Ivies, and we must admit the BCSC is a huge part of that.”

Students also expressed their desire for faculty members and graduate students who were supportive throughout the events this weekend to be recognized, mentioning names like Leticia Alvarado, Monica Martinez, and Daniel Rodriguez.

Many of the other Ivy League schools were either meeting with their respective presidents about this weekend’s incident, or had received a message from their presidents. Harvard reportedly received an e-mail from their president. Dartmouth and UPenn will be meeting with their presidents. Princeton and Columbia have received nothing.

The Council offered up a resource training on Tuesday at Pembroke House from 9:30-11, called Organizing for Substantive Change.

A student said that “the Latinx community has been dormant” but that it “has finally woken up.”  “We need things and now is the time. Junot [Diaz] was talking about this last night. We need institutional change. Where’s the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Department? Why is the Spanish house still called Spanish House?… We need to start thinking about demands, thinking about what we need, what would have benefited us before. There’s a lot we can ask for right now.”

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