Provost Peggy Agouris sent the following message to the campus community June 2, 2020. - Ed.
At William & Mary, relationships matter. In the classroom, students and faculty work closely together with curiosity and a shared drive to understand. In our residential community, students develop lifelong relationships with one another. Across campus, faculty and staff work together as colleagues and collaborators and forge strong mentoring relationships with students. These relationships define and enrich our time at W&M, and deep human connections sustain us during times of personal and collective struggle.
These are painful days in our nation and in our world. Racism at its worst, including the killing of African Americans by police, violates our shared humanity and is an affront to the relationships that are the foundation of community. It is hard to be physically apart from one another right now. And yet our relationships endure and can uphold us.
As we have listened to our campus over the last several days, we have heard recurring questions about the relationship between W&M’s own law enforcement officers and other members of our community. Chief Deb Cheesebro, Associate Vice President for Public Safety and Chief of WMPD, has heard those questions as well, and has responded to many of the community’s concerns in a message that appears below. We are fortunate, indeed, to have her leading our police department.
While Chief Cheesebro addresses students specifically, we believe her message should be heard by our entire community. We share her message to reaffirm, on behalf of the academic and administrative leadership of W&M, our shared commitment to confronting and combating racism. As our president said in her message on Sunday, “African Americans in our community are asking, in this moment, do you recognize my full humanity? We do. We will face this with you.”
Peggy Agouris, Provost
Ginger Ambler, Vice President for Student Affairs
Sam Jones, Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration
Amy Sebring, Vice President for Finance and Technology
Message from Chief Cheesebro
Several of you have contacted me directly regarding the trauma and disappointment you are feeling about the recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. I appreciate you reaching out.
Over the last few years, WMPD has worked closely with members of the Student Assembly to prioritize and deliver proper police services for our students. I welcome student input on any issue, whether it is about strategies, equipment, training, communication or other areas.
It is difficult to formulate a message that adequately addresses the events of last week. What I saw of officers restraining Mr. Floyd was unconscionable.
After 40 years in law enforcement, it is heartbreaking to see these types of excessive force incidents still occurring and discouraging to see the impacts of rage across the country. I understand the outcry and the trauma. I share your anger for the needless loss of life.
This department will not condone excessive force. My direction to our department will always be bias-free policing. Officers are expected to treat everyone with dignity, courtesy and respect. I will stand for no less.
"Professional" is a word many claim, but far fewer deserve. It is not just about training, equipment, or looking good in uniform. It is about having the right heart as you go about your craft. It is about applying your knowledge and skills in a bias-free manner, and in fact, in a way that promotes inclusivity. Our officers will continue to rely on our values as a department and use our training and teamwork to keep you and others safe in our community.
While there are instances where police do need to restrain someone, there is a right way for this to be done. The videos of Mr. Floyd’s arrest showed unwarranted, excessive force. It is long past due for these injustices to stop. It is critical that all police stay focused on doing the right thing, and that includes condemning these blatant violations of human rights.
Sometimes I am asked about WMPD’s policing philosophy, where values drive our approach and decisions. We have a mission much broader than enforcing laws. We also focus on community. And in enforcing the law we strive to do so with good intent and sensitivity. WMPD needs to model the right way, every day. And in the event we make a mistake, we need to acknowledge that and work to improve.
As we plan ahead for the coming semester, we will continue our partnership with Student Assembly and plan more formal opportunities for your input as well so we can listen to your comments, suggestions and concerns. I will also continue to meet with individual students and student groups by appointment and invitation. My door is always open.
This fall I will also hold monthly, open Q&A sessions where we can answer your questions, hear your concerns and share updates on WMPD activities. We will continue our strong partnerships with the Williamsburg Police Department, James City County Police Department, Virginia State Police, York County Sheriff's Office, and the Commonwealth Attorney's Office. All of these agency officials are committed to providing professional, fair and unbiased services. We will invite these partners to the Q&A open sessions and other fora.
I am always in pursuit of better policing. I think we can continue that process together.