A longtime University of Massachusetts Amherst employee said Monday that he feels “stressed out” after an anonymous caller flagged him as an agitated black man on school property, prompting campus police to question him.
The employee, Reginald Andrade, the university’s consumer manager for disability services, said Monday by phone that he entered Whitmore Administration Building around 7:45 a.m. Friday after his customary workout at a campus recreation center.
Andrade carried his gym bag to his office and was later greeted by two plainclothes campus police detectives, who asked to speak with him. They rattled off several questions that seemed to come out of left field, he said.
“ ‘Where were you last night? What did you do?’ ” Andrade said, quoting the detectives. “ ‘What time did you go to bed? What time did you get to the recreation center? What did you do at the recreation center?’ ”
In a message to the campus community, chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy called the incident “disturbing” and said police are providing resources and support to Andrade, whom Subbaswamy described as “a valued member of our community.”
“As this incident illustrates, we still have much work to do,” the chancellor wrote. “We recognized this when introducing our campaign this fall to build a Community of Dignity and Respect, and we will be fully engaged to build awareness and to educate in the months ahead.”
Initially, Andrade said, he was baffled by the officers’ questions until they explained that an anonymous caller had reported “an African American gentleman, agitated, dragging a heavy black bag up the Whitmore ramp.”
He said he showed the officers that his bag dropped down to his knees, contained only his clothes, and wasn’t “heavy at all.” In addition, Andrade said, he didn’t speak to anyone as he entered his building Friday.
“How can somebody make a false judgment by walking by me and, in a matter of seconds, determining ‘OK, this person looks agitated?’ ” Andrade said. “I was not on a cellphone. I was not speaking to anyone, I was not speaking to myself.”
He credited the officers with questioning him in a professional manner and said he was later given a coffee mug and a keychain as “some sort of gift for my troubles.” Still, Andrade said, he “felt very uncomfortable” during the questioning and decided to speak to the media to raise “light and awareness” about racial profiling on campus.
The Daily Collegian, the UMass Amherst student newspaper, first reported on the episode.
“Sometimes people think of it as a minor nuisance,” Andrade said. “It extends far beyond that. It goes deeper psychologically, physically. . . . I can never forget what happened.”
Andrade said he keeps his school ID card with him at all times, since he was racially profiled twice before on campus, once in the 1980s when he was a student and again about four years ago, when he was leaving an office restroom in sweatpants after a weekend event.
“I care for people in this [Whitmore] building,” said Andrade, a 14-year employee. “People care for me. This entire building was shut down [Friday] for about 30 minutes because of a perceived threat of a black male with a shaved head.”
Subbaswamy, without identifying Andrade by name, wrote that “UMass Police received the following voice mail on their anonymous tip line: ‘a gentleman, African American, bald, red/white pinstripe shirt, dark khakis, large duffle bag on the right shoulder, hanging off a strap, very heavy hanging on the ground, seemed very agitated, walking up the ramp, into Whitmore. I thought I would send that information if someone could go and check, because he seemed like a very upset young man walking into that building.’ ”
The chancellor said the message raised public safety concerns, based on the reported behavior, so police responded according to standard protocol. Officers determined after speaking with a man matching the caller’s description that there was no threat, according to Subbaswamy.
Andrade identified himself as the man questioned by police.
“The man described by the caller is a longtime university employee, known to many Whitmore staff members,” Subbaswamy wrote. “He was going about his usual morning routine, carrying exercise clothes in a gym bag. He is greatly distressed to have been treated with such suspicion. UMass Police Chief Tyrone Parham and other members of the university staff reached out to him, providing resources and support, and expressed regret for what he had experienced. He is a valued member of our community.”
Subbaswamy said officials hope the anonymous caller was making a well-intentioned effort to “protect public safety.”
“But we also know that racial profiling, whether intentional or not, occurs and that it corrodes our efforts to ensure a welcoming living, learning and working environment for every member of our community,” Subbaswamy wrote.
He said university police train regularly in threat response, profiling by proxy, and racial profiling, and Parham plans to speak to campus groups about the incident. In addition, Anna Branch, associate chancellor for diversity and inclusion, is available to discuss the matter with members of the campus community, Subbaswamy said.
Friday’s incident at UMass Amherst came after a black student at Smith College, a private women’s college in nearby Northampton, was approached by a Smith officer over the summer after police received a report that the student seemed “out of place” while eating lunch on campus.