St. Stephen's objects to search of students at UW eventOct 9, 2015 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer
St. Stephen's Indian High School principal Cheryl Swiderski Meyers is hoping for an apology from the University of Wyoming after an incident last month involving students accused of stealing from the college book store.
Myers said the students were falsely accused of stealing and were searched without a reasonable cause.
UW officials who investigated the incident concluded there was no violation of school regulations which prohibit discrimination based upon race.
No citations were issued during the incident.
Ten St. Stephen's students and two chaperones participated in the university's Campus Pass day Sept. 26.
The students and chaperones were wearing white
T-shirts with their school's name and logo printed in red. They also were carrying UW bags given to them at the beginning of the day.
Six students and a chaperone decided to enter the University Store during the trip.
Among the large crowd inside the store, one patron approached the customer service desk and said she suspected two males wearing the white T-shirt with red letters were attempting to steal a shirt. The patron said aloud, "That guy is stealing the shirt."
UW's report states the patron who reported the incident made no reference to race, only noting the T-shirts. According to a report from UW vice president and general counsel Rick Miller, the shirts were distinctive because many of the patrons crowding the store were wearing UW colors of brown and gold.
"The patron believed the two persons may have heard the statement, as they left the display of shirts where they had been standing," Miller said in a statement. "In accordance with store policy, a store employee called the UW police."
A store employee approached four males wearing the white T-shirts and asked that they show store bags and receipts.
"No items purchased from the store were in the bags, nor were there items from the store in the bags that had not been purchased," the report states.
The other male St. Stephen's students in the store were identified, and employees asked to search all of the students' bags. Campus police moved the larger group into a conference room and called the students' parents to notify them of the allegations.
Four of the six males were juveniles, so to follow state law UW said it had to call their parents or guardians in order to notify the adults that there had been contact with the student.
Meyers said the two Caucasian chaperones were not searched, and it was wrong to search the entire group of students. She believes the students were given the group search based on their race.
"They didn't find anything in the search," Meyers said. "There was a problem with establishing a reasonable cause to search."
Miller said there is no evidence that the store personnel or the UW police officer made any statement regarding race during the incident.
"There exists no evidence of racial profiling or discrimination," he said.
According to a final report from the university, the school searched students wearing shirts that fit a certain description. UW determined it handled the situation in accordance with normal practices and procedures but acknowledged that some moments may have been frustrating for the students and parents.
Meyers said she is not pleased with the outcome of the UW investigation.
"We need more dialogue and more discussion," she said. "I'm not saying they have to acknowledge there was any fault on their part, but students' parents were offended. ... We had some very upset parents."
The investigation was initiated after a St. Stephen's parent contacted a UW employee to say the incident involved racial profiling. The UW employee reported the allegation to UW's Equal Opportunity Report and Response Unit, which looked into the issue Sept. 30.
As soon as she became aware of what happened, Meyers said she publicly posted on her Facebook page that she would contact university officials and the school president so that action could be taken immediately and the matter would be addressed appropriately.
"I wanted to teach students the right way to deal with conflict instead of getting defensive and angry," she said.
On Oct. 2, UW president Dick McGinity visited Meyers and expressed his concern about the incident. She said it was a positive discussion during which McGinity talked about what the university could do for the students.
"I am hopeful that he and I can work through this," she said. "A basic apology would be sufficient."
Meyers said she would be pleased if school officials simply said the situation could have been handled differently by the campus police and store employees.
"We don't want to steer a whole race issue, but our students were offended," Meyers said.
She said the students felt intimidated and uncomfortable after the incident.
"Their feelings were that they were selected because of their ethnicity," she said.
Moving forward, Meyers said parents and the school hope there's a resolution with the situation.
"I think that would help mitigate some of the feelings that the students and parents have with the university," she said.