Interim UO President Patrick Phillips sent the following message to the campus community Jan. 30:
The disturbing images of the death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of five police officers in Memphis, Tennessee, leaves us again asking the question: How are we still here? We are outraged, we condemn these actions, and we send our thoughts of support to the many affected communities. We are also called to think about the ongoing impacts of these repeated acts of violence on our local community, especially our Black faculty, staff, and students. Please be supportive to those who may especially feel the ongoing oppression that police violence generates within our communities of color.
For our university community, a critical response to “how are we still here” is “what are we doing?” Our commitment to make progress is strong, and our work is ongoing. Here is a quick update on some of the recent work that we have been engaged in at the UO. Following the murder of George Floyd, I met with all of our historically underrepresented affinity groups and listened at other gatherings of communities of color. Many members of our UO community asked the university to explore other avenues of policing on campus. We engaged with an external consultant to evaluate our campus policing, and that work led to a comprehensive report that I highlighted in a September message to campus. We continue to work on a number of the recommendations, including reviewing the scope and role of our police Complaint Review Committee.
The most consistent request we have heard is to expand our services to allow for more unarmed engagement, with special attention to the mental wellbeing of members of the community. With this request in mind, we have increased the number of community service officers on campus and continue to evaluate our rules of engagement to look to deescalate encounters whenever possible while still ensuring the safety of all of those involved. Most recently, I have authorized the establishment of a local 24-hour call center that will allow us to respond to emergency and non-emergency needs with staff who are directly connected with our community and fully understand our local needs. We are also looking to develop greater partnership with our 911 service providers to allow us to better track local responses to calls through that service.
I am appreciative of the UO Police Department’s deep engagement and support for all of this work. We are fortunate to have such community-minded and mission-oriented people serving our community. Even so, the UO is not an island, so we have also been working hard to strengthen our paths of communication with the City of Eugene to help ensure that the safety needs of the campus are served within the context of the city as a whole. I am especially proud of ASUO President Luda Isakharov and her administration’s solutions-oriented engagement with the City Council and the Eugene Police Department to address shared concerns around police actions that affect students.
As we process the horror of what happened in Memphis and ongoing atrocities we see in the world, I hope that there is some solace in being part of a community that seeks to improve itself every day. We cannot be all things, and we will never get it perfectly right. However, we will never stray from our vision of the ideal, nor will we lose the will to seek a better world for ourselves and society. We are always strongest when we stand together, in vision, in action, and in support of one another.
Interim President and Professor of Biology