The University of Houston (UH) has retracted a policy requiring theater students to wear vests while rehearsing scenes outdoors, a move put in place after campus police drew a gun on a Black student while he was rehearsing, the Texas Tribune reported.
Students had criticized the policy and argued that it put the burden of safety on them rather than on police. They also criticized administrators and campus police for failing to acknowledge and address the traumatic nature of the incident on students of color.
“They wanted anything to identify that the students weren’t threats on their campus so that when UHPD pulled up, they could identify us,” UH senior Brandon Sanders said. “A bright green-colored vest is not gonna change the color of my skin, and my skin is black.”
UH police had received a report Nov. 4 that a Black man was assaulting a woman with a knife. In reality, student Domonique Champion was holding a white sheet of paper behind a campus building next to the School of Theatre & Dance.
The responding officer drew his gun in a “low-ready position” and “aimed his weapon in their general direction,” yelling for the students to get on the ground and show their hands, according to the police report. After both students complied and yelled that they were rehearsing, the officer holstered his gun, explained the received report, and tried to console the crying and shaking students, according to the police report.
UH said, upon review of the incident, that the officer acted appropriately, according to protocols for reports of an assault involving a weapon.
“I’m terrifyingly aware that the gun was meant for me. Because of angling, I knew it was meant for me,” Champion said at a town hall, noting the gun barrel was not pointed directly at him. “I need it known [that] it’s more than the gun. It’s the fact the gun was already out, yes. … I need you to understand I did not feel safe moving until I heard the voice of a Black sergeant.”
The decision to implement vests was made during a meeting with faculty and a staff representative from UHPD, according to Dr. Andrew Davis, dean of the McGovern College of the Arts.
“Despite its shortcomings, this was a solution that was arrived at with the best of intentions on all sides,” Davis wrote in a Jan. 30 email to students. “The University of Houston is a community that cares, and our top priority is for our students to feel safe so that they can be successful in their studies and in everything they do on campus.”
Counseling will be available for students. And a new working group of students, faculty, and staff to help administrators better respond to student needs moving forward will be created.