“Tea and Talk”: Campus Security, Decorah Police Department, and CIES co-host an informal meeting with students.


Shasa Sartin (‘19) | Chips

Chief of Police for the City of Decorah Bill Nixon and student Maya Mukamuri (‘22) attended the tea and talk event.

On May 8, Campus Safety and Security, the Decorah Police Department and CEIS  co-hosted a student-led tea and talk event in the Mott and Borlaug rooms for Luther  students to get to know them better and to understand the roles each organization plays on campus and in Decorah. The event was held in response to comments and ideas raised at the Human Rights Council meeting on April 29.

At the beginning of the event, Director of Campus Safety and Security Bob Harri explained the role of his office.

“Our primary function for Campus Safety and Security is to create a safe, secure environment that is conducive to learning,” Harri said. “In short, we want to make you feel safe so that you can concentrate on other things while you’re here. We want you to feel safe when you are out and around.”

Harri also listed many of the services that security staff provide for students. These services include jumpstarting cars, helping get keys out of locked cars, letting people into their rooms if they are locked out, and responding to medical and other emergency calls.

In an interview apart from the event, Chief of Police for the City of Decorah Bill Nixon said he appreciated the opportunity this event created for the Luther community members to get acquainted with police officers. He said it is necessary to have rapport between the DPD and Luther — and, in general, between the DPD and all of Decorah.

“It’s important that everybody that lives in the city of Decorah has a relationship with us or at least perceive us as accessible and responsive,” Nixon said. “We’re here to serve everyone. The college campus can, in some respects, be a little isolated. It becomes a bit of a microculture of itself within the city, and thats generally not a great thing. Everybody kind of has to … reach out and make one another more accessible.”

Erik Mandsager (‘20) agreed that it is important to have a good relationship between students and police officers, and he felt that this event helped encourage that.

“It is important to give people who have felt wronged by the police a chance to tell them and ask for explanation,” Mandsager said. “It is also important for police and students at Luther to better understand each other, and feel like they can approach each other.”

Students, faculty, and staff sat in small groups with at least one Decorah police officer in each group. The groups were provided questions to guide conversation, and people had the opportunity to ask any questions they had.

Students like Alice Odame (‘22) used the event to express concerns. Odame has received some threats as an international student working at the Ticket Office. She did not feel satisfied with the response she was given, even after the event.

“When I spoke to Luther College campus security, and the [Decorah] Police, about this issue and asked why Luther College does not have policies to deal with such issues, I was basically told there’s not much that can be done because it’s freedom of speech,” Odame said. “I’m not sure when hate speech and blatant racism and xenophobia became freedom of speech, but okay.”

Nixon responded to some of the criticisms of how the police handle racial discrimination in Decorah, citing a lack of reporting as an issue.

“I mean, frankly, we don’t receive calls or complaints about those incidents that I’m sure occur out in the community,” Nixon said. “Most people who are on the receiving end of those unfortunate experiences more often than not don’t call us. It requires a degree of risk to the person who has experienced this to reach out and call us.”

According to Nixon, there have been events like the tea and talk in the past, but they were primarily Luther community members airing grievances with the department. He appreciated the opportunity to speak with students, faculty, and staff with an emphasis on getting to know one another. Nixon said this can facilitate improved communication down the road.

“I hope that we do more things like the event the other day: have more opportunities in different contexts to interact with everybody on the campus,” Nixon said. “Not just people of color or international students, you know, everyone, because we do pass through each others’ lives and it would be nice if we were familiar to one another.”

Harri also felt that the event showed positive aspects of the relationship between students and officers, and that it led to potential to create more.

“Personal, face-to-face communication leads to understanding and familiarity which, in turn, adds to the comfort level we experience with one another,” Harri said. “The ability we had to pull this event together on relatively short notice is a good example of the good relationship we have with the Decorah Police, Campus Safety and Security, and our students. Events like this can strengthen this relationship even more.”

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