Civil Rights

Black public safety officer at Providence College details ongoing racist attacks by co-workers

“The instances of racial harassment that I experience at PC demonstrate the implicit bias of the community where the leadership does not take these concerns seriously or take steps to stop this behavior and educate the campus community,” said Public Safety Lieutenant John Dunbar. “Providence College will never be a ‘Beloved Community’ when racial discrimination is allowed to continue.”
Photo for Black public safety officer at Providence College details ongoing racist attacks by co-workers

Published on April 26, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

Over 100 faculty, students and supporter aligned with Providence College’s Coalition Against Racism (CAR) gathered at the River Avenue and Eaton Street gate at around noon to protest the racially motivated harassment of Public Safety Lieutenant John Dunbar. Lieutenant Dunbar has experienced harassment for the entirety of his 32 year career at Providence College, but it escalated when he was promoted from Sergeant to Lieutenant in 2017 after a consultant recommended this step after an investigation into racial profiling at the college, maintain organizers.

Multiple serious racial profiling incidents have been the subject of Providence College student and CAR activism since 2013. Ending profiling was one of the student demands after Black activist students occupied the President’s office in 2016. This demand was again made in 2020 when profiling was not stopped. Two Chiefs of Public Safety have been forced to leave their posts due to continued profiling. 

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Not only has profiling of students, visitors, and faculty of color continued say organizers, but Lieutenant Dunbar himself has been explicitly profiled and targeted by security officers.

In his public statement, Lieutenant Dunbar alleged numerous incidents of racism:

  1. Having my food and water sabotaged in the office.
  2. Having a coworker gloat that they had a bias incident that I had reported about them 19 years ago recently expunged off their record. the comment was about myself and another officer of color having babies and the supervisor said, “two more Black babies in the world” in a derogatory tone.
  3. Becoming the third highest ranking officer within the department and facing hostility from the officers to the point of having a Sergeant spit in his face in the department conference room.
  4. Having no designated office in the OPS building and being ostracized from the department by being assigned to work in another building, while a supervisor of a lower rank was allowed to maintain a private office within the Public Safety office.
  5. Receiving training for investigative roles like Title IX, Title VI, and internal affairs, and having these responsibilities removed from his responsibilities without explanation. 
  6. Responding to a situation where a student spit at him and repeatedly called him the “N-word.” The student also bit another officer. The College only had concerns for the officer who sustained the bite and never responded to the racist attack on Lieutenant Dunbar.
  7. Being racially profiled four times in the past year at the Huxley Avenue gate from the same officer where I am stopped at the gat, and then permitted to go onto campus each time with the officer stating that he did not know who I was. This officer has a history and numerous complaints of profiling at the gate, faculty, staff and students at the gate. This has happened four times over the last year.

“These are just a few instances of what I have experienced and what students, staff, and faculty of color have shared they have experienced as well,” said Lieutenant Dunbar addressing the attendees at the protest. “I have tried to work through the College protocol for reporting concerns, but my concerns are always dismissed as not overt racism. The instances of racial harassment that I experience at PC demonstrate the implicit bias of the community where the leadership does not take these concerns seriously or take steps to stop this behavior and educate the campus community. Providence College will never be a ‘Beloved Community’ when racial discrimination is allowed to continue.”

Lieutenant Dunbar was introduced by Dr. Anthony Rodriguez, a professor in the Elementary and Special Education Department who has faced a similar history of harassment and retaliation by members of his department and the administration due to his blowing the whistle on discriminatory treatment of students of color in his department.

“When you are a person of color on our campus and want to change our system, you will be met with a wall of silence; then, you will be ignored; then as the issues you raised become so loud that it is obvious, the administration will blame you for the things you raised, and they ignored,” said Professor Rodriguez. “They will say you did not say it in the right way, with the right tone, in the right manner. What they are saying is we only listen to white people. Your color gets in the way of the communication.

“We have a well-funded diversity program that has yet to focus on structural change because it is easy to spend money hand over fist on programming and guest speakers; the hard valuable work is to change the culture here, to challenge the status quo, to actually hold someone accountable for what they have done,” continued Professor Rodriguez. “I have experienced this repeatedly, retaliation after retaliation in the elementary and special education program, wherein in 2019, I laid out some of the problems we faced. Since then, it has been an open season on this Mexican, with the administration teaming up with those in my department who discriminated against Black and Latinx women. 

“This same open season pattern targeting black and brown people at Providence College is now happening to Officer Dunbar,” concluded Professor Rodriguez. “I want us all to listen to him and process what it must be like to show up every day to work for decades while enduring such treatment.”

Lieutenant Dunbar demanded that Providence College remove the large majority of Public Safety administrators as well as those lower-level security officers who have engaged in harassment and racial profiling. If the college does not take this action, Providence College’s newly hired Public Safety Chief will be unlikely to be able to combat the ongoing discriminatory behavior of public safety officers at the college.

“The problem is not only the actions of these officers who are doing the profiling,” said Providence College Professor Eric Hirsch, a member of Providence College’s Coalition Against Racism. “The problem is the fact that the administration does nothing about it.”

Providence College would not comment on the specific charges.

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