College apologizes for using descriptor 'Hispanic' in crime alert

The university ultimately apologized, saying the message "caused great distress."

Smith College sent out a crime alert that included the word “Hispanic” in describing the suspect.

Smith College sent an email to students on September 20, apologizing for using the term “Hispanic” in a campus crime alert.

On Sept.18, Smith College sent a crime alert to students that included “Hispanic male, wearing dark blue jeans” in the physical description of the suspect.

In an email obtained by Campus Reform, Smith College President Kathleen McCartney apologized “for the harm the RAVE notification caused, especially to members of the Latinx community.”

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Assuring students that “there is no more important work at Smith than our actions to ensure racial justice,” McCartney said that “It is clear to me that this message caused great distress not only to people who identify as Latinx, but also to others.” She invited students to provide feedback to Campus Safety.

Smith College Senior Director for News and Strategic Communications Stacey Schmeidel sent Campus Reform a statement from Vice President for Finance and Administration David DeSwert, which explained why the university elected to apologize for the crime alert.

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“The first error was one of judgment,” wrote DeSwert. “The emergency alert used the descriptor ‘Hispanic’ for the individual, as reported by the Northampton Police Department. Although that descriptor was meant to help identify a potential suspect, we believe that the use of presumed ethnicity is neither helpful nor appropriate in these situations.”

DeSwert explained that alerts will focus on “physical descriptions” rather than “presumed ethnicity” in the future, including skin color, hair color, height, and clothing. Such descriptors will only be used “in situations where there is a significant threat and the descriptors could be helpful in preventing a serious crime.”