Walking Without Papers at ASU, The “New American University”

It has been an eventful news cycle for Arizona State University.

Last week they announced a partnership with Starbucks employees that went from press release to critical analysis in about 48 hours. I chimed in with a few thoughts on a public college extracting revenue from Starbucks employees. It turns out that the public university will invest more in the partnership than Starbucks, who can ostensibly afford it.

This week the university billing itself as the “New American University” is back in the news with a more personal story about class (and race and gender). ASU campus police arrested professor Ersula Ore for jaywalking on a campus street. You can watch the video here:

Folks are circulating petitions, expressing outrage and support. This being the Internet, more than a few folks are also making the case in support of the campus police. You’ll find plenty of questions and critique along that gamut. I have a few different questions.

Call me odd but I wonder just want an Arizona State University professor has to deserve the university’s support when the campus police assaults and arrests them?

More particularly, I wonder what someone like Erusala Ore has to do for her university to decide that she deserves the benefit of doubt, or the suspension of doubt, when a campus police officer arrests her for not showing her papers.

Showing one’s papers. By all accounts that’s essentially what the ASU campus police officer asked Ore to produce, her papers. You know, like when enslaved black labor needed to prove they had permission to walk the streets unescorted?

Or, if you’re one of those people for whom history is always past, it is like how brown people in Arizona must carry their identification with them at all time to prove they belong in the country.

Or, like one of my international colleagues in the state of Georgia who mentioned one night over drinks that she had wanted to carry her cute new clutch but it wouldn’t fit her immigration papers. She didn’t want to be caught drinking with an accent in the state that had just passed a “show your papers” law. So, she carried all the proof of how she came to be in America in her purse at all times. It’s hell on an outfit.

It’s also hell on a university community that wants to sell us on the idea that they are the “new” American University. The slick iconography of “The Future” clashes garishly with the historical context of racism, sexism, classism, and elitism of a University whose official position is that Ore’s arrest was proper.

From: http://newamericanuniversity.asu.edu/#4
From: http://newamericanuniversity.asu.edu/#4

Look, there is a robust literature on how hard it is to prove the absence of discretion. That’s the thing about discretion. It is always legitimate to appeal to the rule of law. It’s against the LAW, we say. She broke the law. It suddenly becomes irrelevant how many times everyone else around her broke the same law without consequence or how the law is selectively applied and why. That’s a procedural debate.

There are two points of contention with the broader context of that argument. First, is it hard for you to imagine a middle-aged white male professor being arrested for crossing the street outside the crosswalk? It is hard for me to imagine. In fact, it was so hard to imagine I asked my 10,000+ followers on twitter if any of them had ever been arrested for jaywalking.

I have a lot of academics on my twitter feed. I wondered if I just had the wrong sense of how aggressively campus police are identifying and charging people with jaywalking on America’s college campuses. So far, I don’t have too many white guys with horror stories about identifying themselves and aggressive arrests by campus police. I do have a few accounts from people of color about being asked to identify themselves as they walk about campus. There’s at least one high profile black professor who can probably relate.

And, the University’s response is a troublesome thing. Sure, it’s a press release. It was likely written to protect the University and not actually communicate any real information. But the great thing about all kinds of texts that we produce is that they can be read for what they do not say as much as they can be read for what they do say.

The University’s statement does not acknowledge Ore’s service to the University. I cannot find an instance of the University including Ore in in its “we” or “our” statements. From reading the statement it is difficult to determine that Ore even works there, much less that she is trusted to teach students or produce intellectual property, i.e. the business that the New American University seems to be in.

ASU does not construct Ore as a valuable member of the University community. Like Officer Stewart Ferrin, the University appears to have put Ore just beyond the invisible line of belonging. In academia that is a space so full of brown people and women that it could be mistaken for a fish fry on first Sunday at an AME Zion church.

It could be that Officer Ferrin is right and Ore is a professor behaving badly. Or, it could be as an eye witness reported that night to the 911 dispatcher and Officer Ferrin was unduly aggressive with a woman for no discernible reason except that she was guilty of being where she did not belong.

Ore is charged with resisting arrest but the video shows someone resisting the idea that she is an interloper just because an officer, who as a campus police officer is her colleague, has decided that she is.

And ASU agreed.

That is a pretty retrogressive position for the New American University.

But, I digress.


You can sign the petition.

You can ask Starbucks about their choice of university partner.

You can donate to Ore’s legal defense fund.

Or, you can join us at the Outsiders Fish Fry but you have to bring hot sauce, freedom papers and your ID.

8 thoughts on “Walking Without Papers at ASU, The “New American University”

  1. Remember: Arizona is the state that would not adopt Martin Luther King Day.

    Sadly, I’m not surprised by this awful incident.

  2. I’m dumbfounded, though not entirely surprised. The only time I (a middle-aged white female) have ever had an exchange with a university police/security officer (I’m not sure which he was) was when I was working quite late into the night in my office at the very tail end of the semester/beginning of break, and someone came by to check on what was probably a very visibly-lit window in an otherwise-dark building (we have motion-activated lights, which sometimes go off even when one is in the room). Even then, I wasn’t asked for i.d. (reasonably so since I was behind several doors he’d needed to use keys to unlock, but still, my word that I belonged there was apparently good enough).

    I wander around my neighborhood, and my campus, without i.d. on a regular basis (when I walk for relaxation/exercise, I travel light — keys only). Such are the unconscious luxuries of white privilege.

  3. I hate to say it, but I went to ASU in the mid-90’s and this was simply the culture there – that the cops would stop, harass, and ticket people who jaywalked. I guess it still is. It happened all the time when I lived there, to people of all races (most of whom were white students, faculty, and staff at ASU). I grew up near NYC, where you would cross wherever, and whenever (i.e., when you didn’t have the walk signal). I knew the word jaywalking, but never knew you could really get busted for doing it. Tempe, AZ was a different story. I knew so many people who got tickets for jaywalking that I was “trained” to only cross in the crosswalk (I’d walk *on* the paint, not a foot to the left or right of it because I know people who were ticketed for walking just outside of the crosswalk). I thought/think this is overkill and a way for the cops to abuse their power and to rake in some extra money. The issue of the cops using excessive force on this professor is, I think, a different story. This is something that is happening with greater and greater frequency around the US. At least she wasn’t hurt badly. Thank goodness for that. I feel like it’s every day I read a story about the cops killing an innocent person for “not cooperating” with them. And the cops keep getting off the hook.

  4. I find it disgusting that the university is not supporting a member of the faculty and instead supporting undue force by a university police officer against a woman of color.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Lattes and Letters

This week Starbucks and Arizona State University announced a joint tuition-degree type-ish plan. I am not sure what to call it because it’s a hybrid of what we consider employee sponsored tuition reimbursement plans, workforce development programs at universities, and some kind of technofuturist vision of higher education access. So, in the way of myRead More “Lattes and Letters”