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Finding ‘the right folks around the table’: BCAP town hall discusses future of Duke policing, housing, student conduct

Duke Police Resource Guide

CREDIT: Jon Gardiner/ Duke Photography

Duke Police Resource Guide CREDIT: Jon Gardiner/ Duke Photography 047506_police_resource_guide

The student-led Black Coalition Against Policing hosted a virtual town hall on policing and policy enforcement with Duke representatives Wednesday night.

In a brief introduction, Dean of Students John Blackshear and Mary Pat McMahon, vice provost and vice president for student affairs, said that university officials had been meeting with BCAP since July, when the group initially released their demands to “disclose, divest and disband.”

“We are appreciative of the work of [the students],” McMahon said. “We have a lot of work to do to make the student experience meaningfully inclusive and equitable, and we’re eager to do that work.”

The panel was moderated by Young Trustee Trey Walk, Trinity ‘19, and featured John Dailey, chief of the Duke University Police Department; Deb LoBiondo, interim dean for residence life; Jeanna McCullers, senior associate dean of students and director of the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards; and Stelfanie Williams, vice president for Durham and community affairs.

Campus policing

DUPD is “in the business of student support,” Dailey said.

Dailey said that he was “disgusted” by the police brutality he observed during summer 2020 and that the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others have been discussed internally. He admitted to being surprised that some students felt unsafe around DUPD officers and that his goal for the department is to identify what safety and security look like for different people. 

He added that there should be an “easy way” for people to have their concerns addressed and said that generally, he believes the University is “very open” to hearing complaints about systems that aren’t working. Additionally, he said that sharing information with DUPD, even anonymously, would help the department “identify trends.” The department receives about 44,000 calls each year, he said.

Dailey asserted that DUPD plays an important role on campus and that being armed is necessary, citing a variety of incidents that have occurred near campus or Duke University Hospital such as robberies and armed individuals. “It would certainly be great to be in a place” where officers would not need to be armed, he said.

When asked about his stance on police abolition—one of BCAP’s goals laid out in its initial statement—Dailey said that it is not his goal and that he is against police abolition. While he acknowledged that there needs to be changes and that people have been treated unfairly, he underscored the need for policing.

“Until society is such that people aren’t harming each other and that we don’t need people to try to resolve difficult situations ... there is work to be done by people like me,” Dailey said. “There’s certainly other people that can do different types of work. I know violence interrupters we’re looking at for different things in Durham. Absolutely, we should do that too, and we should all come to the table.”

Dailey said many people feel students are safer dealing with the DUPD than the city police. He said that he would hope it’s better for students to end up in the Office of Student Conduct as opposed to being criminally charged. 

He also said DUPD’s relationship with the Durham Police Department is “very good” and that there is a strong partnership between them.

Dailey also told the panel that DUPD’s use-of-force policy was consistent with the reform policies set forth by #8CantWait, a campaign to reduce police killings. The eight policies are de-escalation, creating clear policies on weapon use, banning the use of chokeholds and strongholds, requiring a verbal warning before shooting, not shooting at moving vehicles, intervening in excessive force situations, exhausting all alternatives and comprehensive reporting. 

Dailey told The Chronicle in a December email that there have been seven uses of force during an arrest by DUPD officers within the last five years, with most being a “push or a grab.” During one arrest, he wrote, an officer used pepper spray after being bitten by the person under arrest.

“In the end, we are here to support this institution and this institution’s mission,” he said at the town hall. “Duke does not exist to have a police department. It exists for education, research and healthcare.”

He said the department has been working to increase data collection to build trust. The department currently has 160 employees, with 46% being people of color and 30% being women, Dailey said. In 2019, DUPD stopped 82 people in traffic stops, of which 50% were white and 32% were Black. Dailey asserted that within those stops, the department does not disproportionately stop Black people for “minor” reasons and that he is “comfortable with those numbers.” 

There were no arrests involving use of force in 2020, Dailey wrote in December. Additionally, the department has used dashcams since 2005 and body cameras since 2015, Dailey wrote. 

Dailey acknowledged at the town hall that there were certain situations where armed officers did not need to respond, such as EMS calls, noise complaints and student disputes. 

Student conduct

“My transition into [being director of OSC] was very much framed by issues of race, identity and equity,” McCullers said. She adopted her current role June 1, and her goals are to increase consistency in adjudicating cases, revisit how campus partners engage with students and be more proactive.

McCullers said that one shortcoming of OSC is “boxing ourselves into what we think student conduct is,” and that it should first and foremost be a source of student support. She pointed to the fact that out of 2,000 student conduct cases in the previous academic year, “under five” went through the formal conduct process. 

Instead, most students go through adaptable conflict resolutions, which involve reflection and conversation. Most commonly, students referred to OSC go through faculty-student resolutions. In the case that a resolution fails or conduct is more severe, the student will go through the formal conduct process. 

In comparison, the most recent statistics from 2017-18 published by OSC state that 71% of cases of alleged misconduct were handled via these informal means. Before this process even begins, the office attempts to identify interim interventions, such as providing support or taking reactive measures like suspension or no-contact orders.

McCullers added that students of color are not disproportionately represented in OSC’s aggregate data, making up around 10% of overall reports. She said that every year, the office partners with an outside organization that sends a survey to students to help the office revamp its policies and practices. However, McCullers acknowledged that OSC doesn’t have data on whether there is disproportionality in how students are affected by disciplinary measures.

McCullers emphasized that OSC is always looking for where there is discretion in the process and “establishing checks and balances to that discretion.” For example, she said that OSC is thinking about bringing more diversity of voices and thought into the Student Conduct Board selection process, as well as increasing data sharing and transparency with campus partners.

“Wherever there’s discretion, there’s potential for bias,” she said.

McCullers touched on the process of responding to hate and bias, which is the same as other violations but with additional measures. When a hate incident is reported to OSC, campus entities including the Office of Institutional Equity, DUPD and HRL are notified. 

One area where students can weigh in, she said, is determining how to deal with systemic community harm.

“I don’t have to have seen the incident or been present to experience it in the same way that someone else may have,” she said.

McCullers also addressed Duke’s pickets, protests and demonstrations policy, which a student, in a question to the panel, claimed criminalized student activists who wish to better the University. She said that OSC has not held any student accountable under the policy under her tenure “or even probably before then.”

“We’re fully aware of the tension between what the university policy is in our book versus what students may want to do and how they express themselves to national events,” she said. “What they should know is that we’re right there with them.”

Dailey added that there is a balance to be struck between allowing protesters and allowing others to have the opportunities provided by the University.

“When something interrupts that, something has to happen,” he said. “What we hope happens is different levels of control, starting with self control, next might be peer control, administrative control and the last thing we want is police having to be involved.”

Dailey cited the example of police intervention during students protesting Palantir Technologies at the 2019 TechConnect career fair. He said that neither self nor peer control worked, and when administrative response by Student Affairs also didn’t work, police had to get involved “to allow university operations to continue.”

McCullers added that this semester, OSC is putting together a policy review committee composed of students, staff and faculty for the Duke Community Standard to “look and revisit our policies and practices.” Students who want to weigh in about the pickets, protests and demonstrations policy should reach out to her, McCullers said. 

Dailey said that he hopes the policy review process may allow for “a more satisfying response next time.”


LoBiondo said that one of her goals upon arriving at Duke in 1996 was to “enhance the diversity of the housing team,” and this remains one of her goals today. Increasing diversity among graduate residents, resident assistants and residence coordinators is one area that LoBiondo believed could be improved. 

HRL also relies on a cultural fluency committee, created after a 2015 incident in which a noose was hung on the Bryan Center Plaza. 

This is in addition to incorporating core values of intersectionality and equity into the housing experience, which includes the introduction of the Foundations of Equity training for first-year students and improvement of the RA training model.

RAs undergo exercises during initial training and throughout the semester to ensure they’re properly equipped to handle a variety of issues, LoBiondo said. This includes being aware of social justice issues, white privilege and microaggressions. 

Students raised concerns about RAs being in a position to police other students, and LoBiondo said that RAs are taught to engage with students in an authentic way but to avoid putting themselves in danger. She stated that RAs only contact police if there are health and safety concerns. 

“We don’t want our undergraduate RAs put in harm’s way,” she said. “The police is an important partner for us particularly as it relates to health and safety and higher-risk things.”

The Next Generation 2.0 Living and Learning Committee is also a vehicle for equity in housing, LoBiondo said, as it aims to decrease the “footprint” of Interfraternity Council and National Panhellenic Conference housing on Abele Quad and create greater inclusivity in housing.

“We’ve never had gathering spaces for our [National Pan-Hellenic Council] or [Multicultural Greek Council] groups,” she stated. The National Pan-Hellenic Council is the umbrella organization for historically Black fraternities and sororities.

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. had a living space previously, LoBiondo said, but lost it after being unable to fill beds. In contrast, IFC and Panhel organizations have consistently had more space.

She also briefly commented on the random roommate policy for first-years, saying that the policy was “wonderful” but that housing had“fallen short in ensuring students were prepared to have authentic conversations with people of different backgrounds.

The Durham community

Williams said it’s “so important that during a student’s tenure at Duke, that they have to be involved and a part of Durham so they get to experience it for themselves.” She emphasized the importance of getting to know Durham “for ourselves” and to contribute positively to Durham.

“We are residents of the Durham community and we can join together with the members of the broader community who have lived experience and expertise to share as well,” she said. “The skills and understanding that you will gain from being involved in Durham will serve you for the rest of your lives.”

She added that many of the contemporary leaders in Durham are affiliated with Duke, demonstrating “the connectivity and the opportunity that students have to contribute.”

Addressing Duke’s complex relationship with Durham, Williams emphasized that Durham and Community Affairs works through neighborhood partnerships to support the interests of residents in particularly the twelve neighborhoods that surround the University. The goal is to recognize issues that residents see as a priority and to identify resources or other ways Duke can convene “the right folks around the table to solve issues,” she said. 

Mona Tong profile
Mona Tong

Mona Tong is a Trinity senior and director of diversity, equity and inclusion analytics for The Chronicle's 117th volume. She was previously news editor for Volume 116.

Nadia Bey profile
Nadia Bey | Digital Strategy Director

Nadia Bey, Trinity '23, was managing editor for The Chronicle's 117th volume and digital strategy director for Volume 118.


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