“Somebody knows:” Administrators discuss hate crime at forum

Ashley Wall / THE GATEPOST

FSUPD Chief Brad Medeiros updated students about the hate crime investigation during the Administrators’ Forum hosted by SGA on Wednesday, Feb. 20.

Eleven administrators sat on a panel to answer student questions, including President F. Javier Cevallos and representatives from Academic Affairs, Facilities, Dining Services, Residence Life, and the Dean’s office. Approximately eight students attended the forum.

During the meeting, students raised concerns about resident parking, RamTram scheduling, noise complaints in the residence halls, the quality of dining hall food, and the GPA system. 

Prompted by questions from the audience, Cevallos asked Medeiros to share more information about the hate crime investigation. The hate crime was reported on Feb. 1, when a student discovered racially biased graffiti in a bathroom in Horace Mann Hall.

Medeiros said he could not release the particulars of the investigation until the case was officially closed because it could introduce bias into the investigation and impact the legal process. However, he was able to discuss the general timeline. 

He told the audience it took officers several days to identify the people who were caught on surveillance video entering the bathroom during the time frame in which the hate crime was thought to have occurred. 

He added, “What came as a surprise to me, through the investigation, is how many people don’t know each other on this campus or who didn’t want to let us know who someone was in the video.”  

Medeiros said their information “developed along the way,” which led officers to review other time frames during which the crime might have occurred. This required reviewing the videos again and another round of interviews to help identify more people who entered the restroom. 

He said the first interview process did not yield any suspects, so FSUPD completed “a more in-depth forensic review” of the video. This review led to additional questions, and FSUPD is now re-interviewing people “to identify who is credible and who isn’t,” he added. 

According to Medeiros, FSUPD has also communicated “at length” with “experienced” detectives from the Framingham Police Department to check the quality of their investigation and to ensure they are asking the right questions, interviewing the right people, and treating everyone fairly. 

FSUPD has also been in contact with the Middlesex District Attorney’s office and “sought a resource from the Mass State Police with some equipment they are going to be lending us, if it gets to that point,” Medeiros added. 

“These situations are very difficult to investigate. You have no witness that saw this being done. Whether it’s a note that’s being slipped under a door or whether it’s writing on a wall, you cannot force a confession out of anybody, no matter how you try. It’s definitely not TV,” he said.

Medeiros added they are working “super diligently” to “resolve” the situation. “When we close our investigation, we will take our findings to the district attorney’s office. Ultimately, the charges – if there are any at the time – will be determined in conjunction with the DA’s office.” 

He added, “I would stress this: we really need some input from the community. Somebody knows. Somebody knows. Somebody knows who wrote it. It may not be one of the 14 people that went into that bathroom, but somebody knows who wrote it.” 

Sophomore Carlos Barbosa said during the forum, “Every time the hate crimes come up, people tend to say – even I’ve said it myself in the past – that campus police isn’t doing anything, stuff like that, which I obviously know isn’t true because the amount of work that goes into an investigation is a lot. The student body is very hostile toward campus police, I’ll say that out flat.”

Barbosa said he would like FSUPD officers to participate in conversations and open forums with students, even for a few minutes, so students could hear officers’ perspectives and officers could hear students’ perspectives. 

Medeiros said it’s “not an excuse,” but the FSUPD staff is small relative to the number of buildings and parking lots they need to patrol, so it can be hard to be as “proactive” as they would like. 

He added, “We definitely would like to participate more with different programs on campus. It doesn’t always fit into the schedule, but you can always send me an email and say, ‘Hey Chief, I want to give you a heads up on this. This is coming up – is anybody around this day?’” 

With regards to the forum’s low attendance, both Cevallos and SGA President Ben Carrington said “complicated” scheduling made the event difficult to advertise, and they hope SGA and the administrators can work together next time to more effectively advertise the forum. 

Millie González, interim chief officer of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement, said, “Specifically regarding the recent hate crime, but also what happened in the fall of 2017, I think when something like this happens, the campus is traumatized. And I don’t expect we’re ever, even in a venue like this, to assume that the people who are not showing up don’t care. If anything, it is my job to go where they are.” 

She said, “Because the hurt of these crimes takes a toll on our student population, we have to make extraordinary measures to make sure the way we feel is communicated. This is full-court press: we are extremely upset about this and we want to make sure we do everything in our power to support campus police in solving this issue.” 

González added all the administrators want to build trust with students so they will feel comfortable approaching administrators to have important conversations, but also so students will feel comfortable welcoming them into their spaces – be it the Center for Inclusive Excellence, classrooms, or residence halls. 

Lorretta Holloway, vice president for enrollment and student development, encouraged students to approach her during her “Ask a VP” lunch dates. She said she takes a table in the dining hall where any student can approach her to ask questions. She posts the dates on her Twitter account @SAEnrollFSU. 

“We tend to only hear from certain pockets of students,” but those students don’t always represent the entire campus, Holloway said. She hopes through events like the forum and Ask a VP meals, administrators can reach a wider range of students. 

Patricia Whitney, assistant vice president of facilities, said she’s worked at four other colleges and universities, but she has never seen “a situation like this, where administrators come at the invite of student government and open themselves up for whatever questions come their way – and some haven’t been easy.”

She added, “I hope people take advantage, and you should recognize that it is something that isn’t available on all campuses.”