Invest in Us: The Case for #CareNotCops

Student organizers explain why they are protesting the University’s private police force and call for more investment in mental health resources.

On April 3, University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) officers shot a student experiencing a mental health crisis, needlessly endangering his life and linking him to an ongoing legal onslaught that people who survive police shootings are forced into. The student, fourth-year Charles Thomas, had previously sought services from the University’s Student Counseling Service (SCS), but was referred to external counseling due to lack of adequate resources. Since then, nearly 2,000 people have signed onto our demands for increased mental health resources and disinvestment from the UCPD. Hundreds of students and alumni have withheld or rescinded donations to the University, and will continue to do so until the administration prioritizes people and communities over money and prestige. 

On June 1, 2018, during the University’s Alumni Weekend, a coalition of University students, alumni, and community organizations have launched Camp-Out for #CareNotCops— a multi-day overnight occupation, protest encampment, and block party—to oppose the UCPD’s criminalization of students and communities on the South Side, and to demand fully-funded and multicultural mental health resources for all. Six UChicago students and alumni are committed to risking arrest by occupying tents in the center of the main quad as 400 students, alumni, faculty, and Chicago residents demonstrate in solidarity. 

Camp-Out for #CareNotCops is built on the principle that police do not keep us safe. Policing, especially private policing, is an inherently violent system, and investing in that system escalates rather than heals intra-community violence. We believe the resources needed to keep communities safe are restorative justice, mental healthcare access, education, employment, housing, access to nutritious food, and art. During the encampment, we will be providing free meals, free arts programming, and free political education—including workshops on alternatives to calling the police during a mental health crisis and bystander intervention training—open to all residents of Hyde Park and Woodlawn, inspired by the Freedom Square event series hosted in Homan Square. 

Our own tent encampment, erected right next to the University’s own Alumni Weekend tents, calls attention to UChicago’s long and ongoing history of harassing, displacing, assaulting, and endangering students and residents of Hyde Park, Kenwood, Woodlawn, and Washington Park—most of whom have no connection to the University—all in the name of profit and prestige. $5.5 million is allocated annually to the University’s private police force—one of the largest private police forces in the country, which patrols 65,000 residents with virtually no accountability—all while the University refuses to invest in mental health services, physical spaces for marginalized students, and genuine community safety. 

In a meeting with University deans and counseling staff on May 10, we were told that SCS does not have the capacity to accommodate the high demand for culturally competent counselors. We were told there must be trade-offs in care: between choosing specific counselors and having to wait weeks and even months to secure appointments. In comparison, 48 of 58 University of Pennsylvania counselors report expertise in multicultural counseling, including specialists for LGBTQ+, low-income, first-generation college student, and immigrant populations. 

Through forced leaves of absence, overbooking, long wait times for internal appointments and for referrals to mental health providers outside SCS, a lack of multicultural counselors, and, refusing to grant part-time status to students even in cases of extreme personal grief, UChicago demonstrates again and again that it does not prioritize student wellbeing. UChicago treats those with mental health conditions as liabilities rather than as members of the community who deserve care and dignity. 

The University has failed to fully respond to our rallies, op-eds, campaigns, petitions, and boycotts. But we, the greater University community, cannot allow the administration to repeatedly ignore the needs of students and residents. We call on Provost Daniel Diermeier, as the director of the University budget, to disinvest from—and ultimately disband—the University of Chicago Police Department, and to direct the University’s nearly $8 billion endowment toward mental health services and multicultural resources and spaces for marginalized students on campus. We call on the University of Chicago to stop criminalizing and displacing longtime residents of the South Side, whether through policing or gentrification. We call on the University of Chicago to demonstrate that community and care, rather than prestige and policing, are the budgetary priorities of this institution. 

And we call on you, the reader, to help us build and occupy space on the University’s main quad on June 1 and June 2. This letter is an open invitation to students, staff, faculty, and residents of Hyde Park and Woodlawn: If the University refuses to build community spaces of healing and care, let us build it for them—for now. Let us carve out space for collective being-together: a place from which to reimagine community safety and to be in dialogue with each other about the kinds of political futures we want and need for this campus, for Chicago, and beyond. Bring your friends, your enemies, your rage, your joy, and your sleeping bags. We can and will build a better world.  

Read and sign on to our demands:

Follow the hashtag #CareNotCops for updates on June 1.

Alex Y. Ding ’18 and Tunisia Tai ’18 on behalf of UC United and Juhi Gupta ‘19 and Brianna Tong ‘15 on behalf of UChicago Student Action 

UChicago United is a coalition of multicultural student organizations formed to make the University of Chicago campus more inclusive for students of marginalized backgrounds and identities.

UChicago Student Action (UCSA) is a student power organization founded in 2004 dedicated to fighting for racial, economic, gender, disability and environmental justice on our campus and in our communities. We are a member of The People’s Lobby, Student Action, and Chicago Student Action.