Editor's note: This opinion belongs to the writer and does not reflect the views of the paper. A previous version of this article read “The study came at a cost of $53,000 from Facilities Management," when in fact Planning, Design and Construction provided the money. The article has been corrected.
While the vast majority of University of New Mexico students were enjoying their summer recess, the Albuquerque Journal revealed that the University had commissioned a study to examine campus security and provide suggestions for improvements.
The study came back with an archaic recommendation: Wall off the flagship public university from the rest of the community.
The “Main Campus Perimeter Security Access Study” suggests building an 8 to 10-foot tall, 13,000-foot long wrought-iron fence at a cost of approximately $1.6 million. The proposed barrier would encircle the entirety of the main campus, with at least 25 pedestrian entry and exit points and “controllable vehicle portals” for road access, according to the Journal article.
The study came at a cost of $53,000 from Construction, Planning and Design, according to UNM spokesperson Cinnamon Blair. South Carolina consulting firm, Safeguards Consulting, used the money — more than a year’s salary for all but one current UNMPD officer, (Patricia A. Young at $56,701 a year) — to champion the values of exclusion and a flawed illusion of security.
Campus safety is naturally a concern for the University community, especially regarding high rates of violent and property crime, but Rob Burford, the University’s compliance director for the Clery Act, was skeptical that the proposed fence would have any meaningful impact.
Burford told the Journal recently that he “didn’t know if the perimeter fence would affect on-campus crimes.”
Indeed, the Independent cites research from scientists at Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University pointing out that, while at least 70 significant border barriers exist globally, the evidence is clear that they do not stop the flow of people or contraband.
President Garnett Stokes has been unapologetic in her defense of the spending for the study, saying it was “invaluable” in an Aug. 5 town hall and a “good investment” in a previous interview with the Daily Lobo.
On its face, the proposal may seem like a benign exercise in futility. Dig a little deeper, and it becomes a travesty.
The logistics of such hostile architecture would be a nightmare. At the beginning of this past spring semester, more than 22, 000students were enrolled at UNM, and the bottleneck at access points would presumably result in gridlock on a daily basis. From a more nuanced, social and historical perspective, the ideology behind walls is rooted in prejudice.
A number of right-wing websites, including Breitbart, Campus Reform and the Washington Times, picked up the story after it broke in June. Comments sections were rife with dehumanizing opinions, painting those suffering from homelessness and addiction as unworthy of human dignity and collateral damage of a hyper-consumerist society. Xenophobia and mentalism were on unabashed display, safely tucked behind a shroud of online anonymity.
This is, of course, shameful behavior, but marginalized populations have been a hallmark of the U.S. since its inception, so this rhetoric is hardly new.
It is impossible to ignore the climate of hostility and fear incited by the federal administration that infects the current debate over campus security. The current occupant of the White House has emboldened those who share his classist and ableist ideals. It was therefore unsurprising for that to seep into the discourse in and around UNM’s security situation.
I have personally witnessed individuals suffering from mental illness being mocked by students on campus. I have also seen UNMPD harass and unlawfully detain unhoused individuals for the crime of being poor.
Stokes, as reported previously by the Daily Lobo, will convene a 12-person Campus Safety Council during the fall, with reports possibly due for presentation at an unspecified time late in the semester.
She has made it her mantra to emphasize that UNM is the “University FOR New Mexico.” An imposing and expensive fence would invalidate any credibility she has earned during her tenure and would be a lasting monument to division and fear.
If only for the sake of her legacy, this project should be dismissed and the $1.6 million spent on furthering the educational mandate of the University.