Soft interview room symbolizes paradigm shift in police-student relations

By Hayley Vanstrum

Students staff and faculty gather at the Campus Police station to celebrate the opening of a soft interview room ,part of the new
Students staff and faculty gather at the Campus Police station to celebrate the opening of a soft interview room ,part of the new “Listen. Support. Act.” campaign.

The Campus Police Department, serving New College of Florida and USF-Sarasota-Manatee, introduced its new soft interview room and revised police training program to the New College community April 18 in collaboration with the New College Office of Title IX.

The room is part of the department’s new “Listen. Support. Act.” campaign, which it created with sexual assault survivors in mind. The department is striving to create an environment in which individuals on campus who may have felt apprehensive about approaching the police, particularly victims of sexual assault, can start to feel more comfortable opening up and sharing their stories with officers.

“It’s very important how we deal with survivors,” Chief of Police Michael Kessie stated when speaking about the implementation of this new space and program. “I like to say, especially with Rebecca Sarver’s help, we’re not a college that pushes things aside. We deal with things that are difficult to talk about.”

Kessie, along with Capt. Kathleen Vacca, stressed that this is a change within the department as a whole, something that will hopefully alter student-police interactions on a larger scale for a long time to come.

“I know that beyond the walls and the floor and the paint and all that, that it’s not just a surface, cosmetic, superficial approach. It’s beyond that. It is really a paradigm shift, from a ‘just the facts ma’am’ sort of personality to a trauma-informed approach,” Vacca explained, stating that she hopes that when people come in to report an assault now, they’ll feel a greater sense of acceptance and partnership.

“For students who may have had negative interactions with the police, I hope that when they interact with the campus police here, that they can see that we are not those people,” Vacca continued. “Our reason for being here is not just to support the safety and security of all students, but specifically to deal in a different way, to be more collaborative, to be more engaging.”

Rebecca Sarver, director of campus programs and Title IX coordinator, worked closely with NCF police on this initiative. She said “Listen. Support. Act.” training is about how to make students feel more at ease in stressful situations, which encourages students to provide more details and open up about their experiences.

“We’re not just putting money toward this. We’re putting time toward this. We’re putting effort toward this. We’re making this the future of our institution and our institutional police department and their philosophy,” Sarver affirmed.

Sgt. Christopher Rivett, who has been working with Kessie and Vacca to implement the new training program, emphasized how important it is that the police department has been able to come together to work toward this shared goal.

“We ask officers to go to certain lengths,” he said, “but they often even take the next step beyond us, so everyone is very receptive to everything we’re trying to accomplish here.”

Campus police officers are hopeful that with the department’s decision to make this paradigm shift, other local police communities will follow in their footsteps, put survivors first, and better accommodate the individuals within their communities.

— Hayley Vanstrum is an intern in the Office of Communications and Marketing.

Located in Sarasota, New College of Florida has educated intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement since its founding in 1960. As the State of Florida’s designated honors college, New College provides an exceptional education that transforms students’ intellectual curiosity into personal accomplishment. The 110-acre campus on Sarasota Bay is home to more than 700 students and 80 full-time faculty engaged in interdisciplinary research and collaborative learning. New College offers nearly 40 areas of concentration for undergraduates and a master’s degree program in Data Science.

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