Thinking back to high school, I recall the various security officers that would scream at me in the hallways for wandering around during a bathroom break. Was I a “delinquent?” By no means. The few times I was called into the principal’s office usually revolved around dress code. Yet, the five minutes I wanted to take for myself to go to the bathroom were, obviously, unacceptable. Walking into the cafeteria each day, we had to pass by two officers at the door, both with guns in their holsters, and no one thought twice about it. 

While having armed officers patrol our schools is widely accepted, we often fail to recognize just how weird it is. When thinking of military states, we envision armed guards in every aspect of civic life. When thinking of the United States, we acknowledge the multibillion dollar industry that is security, but we don’t see it as oppressive or intruding upon our daily activities. Is this simply because we have become numb? Or is it the fact that since it seems like basically every American has a gun, it doesn’t really matter if there are armed servants of the state around every corner?

Illustration by Cate Johnson

A term that has recently come into the limelight is the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Basically, this is the process of criminalizing youth through disciplinary processes and actions in schools, which then puts them in contact with law enforcement, and later the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

This pipeline was by no means created accidentally. From 1987–2007, funding for incarceration more than doubled, while funding for higher education went up by only 21%. Even more importantly, this pipeline heavily targets black students, reflected by the current demographics of our prisons and jails. 

While this is most prevalent in low-income public schools across America, colleges and universities are no exception. Most institutions hire School Resources Officers to ensure safety and to make sure that no car parked illegally goes unticketed. However, this takes away much of the power the school has for disciplinary actions, because once it reaches law enforcement, there is no going back. Sure, we need them here in case of “emergency,” but if there was a true emergency wouldn’t most students just call 911?

Law enforcement really became involved on college campuses during the uprisings of the 1960s and 1970s. It’s shocking to think that after something like Kent State happened, when Kent State University called in the Ohio National Guard who then killed four students, officer presence on campuses has only increased.

Being the small, white female that I am, this was never a concept in the back of my mind, as I am not who this system is targeted towards. Yet, I have found that most institutions of both higher and lower education place the emphasis on discipline and subordination to the detriment of the actual acquisition of knowledge and pursuit of the truth. It seems that it is time we take a look at the punitive education system we currently employ, and envision a system that truly puts education first, not behavior.  

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