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The Buchtelite

The Editorially Independent Voice of The University of Akron

The Buchtelite

The Editorially Independent Voice of The University of Akron

The Buchtelite

UA email sparks national debate

By: Ruth Walker

As any student who diligently reads his or her University of Akron Safety Alert e-mails is aware, there have been several robberies reported near campus recently.

In response, Fedearia Nicholson, director of the Office of Multicultural Development, sent an email to 1,900 Black male students registered at The University of Akron detailing how to appropriately conduct themselves if stopped by the police.

Controversy over this email has resulted in an article in the Akron Beacon Journal, a segment on 19 Action News, coverage on NPR and various blog posts and articles across the internet.

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Dr. Boyce Watkins, professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition, has ardently opposed this email. In a recent blog posted on his website,, Watkins argues that the email can be interpreted as telling Black males “Make sure you clearly show us that you are not one of THOSE black people by identifying yourselves clearly and not behaving like one of THEM.”

In an on-air interview on NPR this past Tuesday, Lee Gill, chief diversity officer at The University of Akron responded to Watkins’s comments, stating, “The Office of Multicultural Development has a very paternalistic relationship with our students.”  Gill continued by noting, “We were attempting to support and provide a safe haven for our African-American males.

“There is a psychological sometimes tendency to overreact. Why are you stopping me? What is the problem? And we know that happens,” said Gill, further explaining the rationale behind the email.  “We wanted our Black males not to overreact, to end up in a situation to where they’ve got this great opportunity to be at a great institution in Ohio getting a degree. Why lose that opportunity because you caught yourself up into something that you hadn’t done anything wrong?”

Not everyone agrees that these instructions are necessary.

“I would like to believe that The University of Akron has a little more faith in the students they admitted,” said Jorge Alfaro, Hispanic graduate student pursuing his MBA. He went on to explain that he does not understand why the University feels that “they need to tell students not to run from the police.”

Many have also questioned why the email was only sent to Black male students.

“It would have made sense to send the email to all of the students on campus,” Watkins pointed out during the NPR discussion. He went on to explain his concern. “What happens is we begin to identify African-American males as being more likely to be criminal or to engage in deviant behavior.”

Gill agreed and stated, “Hindsight is always 20-20, and after discussions and really some reflection in early morning hours once this had become a story, we made that determination that this letter, this email, could have very easily been sent to all of our students.”

“The intentions of the email were entirely positive, open and intended to be sensitive to our students,” said Laura Massie, director of Media Relations for the University. She added, “The department regrets any discomfort or confusion among any UA student that the communication may have caused and it won’t happen again in the future.”

Michel Martin, a host of NPR, also bought up another concern, saying, “Some students and outside critics accused the University of, in essence, condoning racial profiling.”

“No one is being targeted nor is there any racial profiling occurring,” Massie said. “It is reasonable to expect that following an incident, police – UAPD or APD – may question those in the immediate area who match the description of the suspect, regardless of race.”

Massie also wants students to know that both the UAPD and the Office of Off-Campus Student Services have several programs and workshops in place that “assist all of our students with keeping them safe, on or off campus.”


Information about those programs can be found at and



“As you may be aware, a series of robberies have occurred around campus over the last few weeks particularly on the south and east ends of campus. Although, most of these crimes have not been committed by University of Akron students, the primary suspects have been African American Males between the ages of 18-23.

Your safety as well as the safety of all UA students is of utmost concern. As a result of these robberies, The University of Akron Police Department is actively addressing this issue and working to make the campus and the surrounding areas safe for all students.

Furthermore, as African American Male students, it is critical to ensure you that you are not a target based on race and gender. However, to ensure your safety, I advise you to be aware of your surroundings at all times.

In the event that you are stopped by the police, here are a few tips to follow:

Cooperate fully with questions

Identify yourself as a UA student and please carry identification with you at all times

Even if you are angered, refrain from using profanity as you could be charged with disorderly conduct

Do not run from the police as you could be charged with a crime

However, in the event that you believe you have been treated unfairly or in an inappropriate manner, please call (330) 972-2911 to make a formal complaint or feel free to contact my office at (330) 972-8289.

Please know that your safety is our ultimate concern.


Fedearia A. Nicholson

Director of Multicultural Development

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  • C

    ccm800Sep 22, 2011 at 2:57 PM

    Silly. This email is a non-issue. The main suspects are college age AfAm males – it made perfect sense to be proactive about this. To pretend that there is not a slant towards black young men in this country as far as crime is to deny the problem and thus put solution effort onto the wrong issue. Excellent email.