Our View: ID circumstances

By: Matthew Balsinger

A recent and seemingly disturbing story has surfaced about The University of Akron.  On Sept. 3, the Office of Multicultural Development sent an e-mail only to male African-American students advising them to display their student IDs to police officers and University Police if stopped, as well as to not use profanity and to co-operate in police investigations.

This action was done after a series of crimes happening around The University of Akron campus involving African-American males. Though the intentions of the OMD might have been good, some serious questions have been raised about the actions we take as a community.

To clarify, I am not assaulting the Office of Multicultural Development’s decision to e-mail a specific part of the student population with a concern; I am instead addressing a much larger issue that our society has to consider and deal with.  That issue is profiling and its implications.

Profiling, for better or for worse, is a tool used by bureaucratic governing bodies to better address a concern or problem. Examples of profiling are in our everyday lives; smokers are more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer than non-smokers; people from ages 20-40 are more likely to commit acts of domestic terrorism than people 55 and older.  Both these instances show us how, for governing purposes, it is ridiculous to target everyone equally for preventative measures when there are clearly trends that would better yield results.

“Two years ago, the OMD did something similar [to the recent e-mail] based on a recommendation from our African-American students,” explained Laura Massie, the University’s Director of Media Relations. “The reaction was favorable. Right now, our school year is just under way. OMD sent the letter out again because we have so many new students on campus.”

Though there is absolutely no malicious intent in the purpose of this recent e-mail, this is where we must be very careful.  There is an issue in how far we allow profiles to stretch and the actions we take toward them.  When statistics such as these are used, we must avoid making over generalizations and policies based on them because they can act to divide, detract and subjugate us into ignorance.

Just because someone meets a certain profile does not justify additional suspicion or control.  Just because people of ages 20-40 are more likely to commit acts of domestic terrorism does not mean that all people ages 20-40 are domestic terrorists.  In fact, the vast majority are not.  How, then, can we justify policies that warrant additional control or suspicion based on these same methods of profiling?

To give undue suspicion to people of a specific profile goes against everything this country and we as a people stand for. Despite how many well-founded concerns there may be, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. No one should be singled out for greater suspicion than anyone else because of arbitrary means. The principle of the matter is that if a person can be singled out because of the actions of other people he or she may resemble, what is stopping policy makers from making over-generalized decisions on issues?

Meeting one generalized description does not warrant additional suspicion.  Our society cannot and should not be able to act on suspicions that are based on any generalizations.

“The e-mail sent out last week to our African-American male students was part of a larger, proactive effort to communicate to all students what the University is doing in response to recent incidents that have occurred off campus,” Massie explained. “While the intentions of the Office of Multicultural Development were good, in hindsight, department administrators realize the communication should have been sent to all University of Akron students, faculty and staff instead of only one group of students. The department regrets any discomfort or confusion among any UA students that the communication may have caused and it won’t happen again in the future.”

Despite the good intentions of The University of Akron and their actions to correct, this issue is one that is very important because of the impact the reactions to over generalizations can have on our society.  Lawyer Clarence Darrow once said that “fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding.”

If we as a society and community do not discuss these issues and their implications as they happen, no one will.  And if we do not question and discuss these issues, then there is nothing to stop them.