Eric Sullivan hired as new CSS manager – The Williams Record
Eric Sullivan will replace Dave Boyer as Director of Campus Security Services (CSS) effective September 27, Vice President of Finance and Operations Mike Wagner announced on September 10. Sullivan’s hiring comes as the college community grapples with questions regarding racism and police misconduct in Williamstown and nationally.
Sullivan began his career as a police officer, serving in the Hazelwood, Missouri, and Maplewood, Missouri Police Departments. Sullivan walked away from police work in 2014, after protests swept through Ferguson, Missouri in response to Michael’s murder by police. Brown, a black teenager.
After a brief stint in private security, Sullivan began working as a public security officer at Harris-Stowe State University (HSSU) – a historically black university in St. Louis, Missouri – while pursuing a degree in criminal justice. There, Sullivan told the Save, he focused on working closely with students and building community. He was promoted to Acting Director of Public Safety in July 2020, which he says was a good synthesis of his passions.
“By working in higher education, I was able to do what I was good at – which is to uphold the law and work with people,” Sullivan said in an interview with the Save. “I could also do whatever I wanted” – work in education – “which was my dream, being a law enforcement officer on a college campus.”
Sullivan emphasized the importance of his time at HSSU working with students from a variety of backgrounds, which he believes will be of great benefit to him in college.
“Dealing with students of color, students from all kinds of socio-economic backgrounds, [and] first generation students [has] been amazing, ”Sullivan said. “It prepared me for an opportunity like Williams because, from what I’ve heard, you have all walks of life there.”
In hiring Sullivan, the College went through its usual process. The finalists went through a series of interviews with various committees, including a student advisory committee and a larger selection committee made up of faculty, staff and students.
Manny Copeland ’23, who served on the student advisory committee, said she supported Sullivan’s hiring. “We thought [Sullivan] was highly skilled, ”she said. “And I believe he will be able to create positive change. During his interview he showed that he has a lot of critical thinking skills on how… to reform the culture here… to move towards solutions that are both anti-racist and more empathetic for students.
Although she said she thought Sullivan was a worthy candidate, Copeland criticized the hiring process as a whole. She said the selection board prioritized the poor qualities of the candidates it considered, which made most of the finalists, in her view, ill-equipped for the job. Sullivan, she said, was the exception to this pattern.
“The selection committee was looking for good police officers when it should have been looking for people who would be good at the social work and social change needed on campus,” she said. “[The candidates] had extensive experience training police forces and training military forces that would not be required on a college campus.
Yunjin Park ’23, who also served on the student advisory committee, agreed with Copeland’s sentiments. She said she was surprised the selection board didn’t pay more attention to finding candidates with social work training.
“I also thought they would try to bring together more social work candidates[s], and I was surprised to find that the applicants largely came from law enforcement careers, ”Park wrote to the Save. “I understand that ‘campus safety and security’ requires a certain type of knowledge, but… it was weird looking at police and military resumes while thinking about the most common CSS roles at Williams. ”
College Dean Marlene Sandstrom, who chaired the selection committee, said the committee seeks to strike a balance between concerns for safety and fairness. “In developing our goals for the research, we identified two key factors,” Sandstorm wrote in an email to Save. “1. Someone is committed to viewing each member of our diverse community with dignity and respect, and to shaping policies and practices around empathy, compassion and civility 2. Someone with l operational experience necessary to keep our campus and community members safe.
Sullivan said the skills that make him a strong candidate for the job were learned, in part, from his time as a police officer. “I join the Williams College community for three main reasons,” he wrote in an email to Save. “My ability to work with and develop diverse teams, my experience in crisis management and, most importantly, my experience and philosophy of community engagement on campus. All of these experiences were established as a police officer and developed as a public safety professional on campus.
Unlike the CSS, whose officers do not carry firearms and have no law enforcement powers, HSSU public security officers can detain students and are armed, although they are not no sworn law enforcement officers and no power to make arrests.
In light of a series of controversies surrounding racial injustice and incidents of police misconduct that have flooded the Williamstown Police Department (WPD) over the past year, Copeland also highlighted the importance to the College to use his resources and influence to help the city develop more fair policing standards – a sentiment Sullivan said he shared. Sullivan said he hoped to serve as a liaison between the college community and the WPD so that “we can bridge the gap and work together.”
“I’m a representative for all of you,” Sullivan said. “It’s my responsibility… my plan is to work directly with the WPD, to identify… [what] the [College community’s] concerns are, bring them to them and find ways to improve what’s going on. “
Sullivan also said he hopes to build trust between the student body and CSS, which he said he has achieved by working with students at HSSU.
“The majority of my students at Harris-Stowe come from areas where they don’t trust their law enforcement,” Sullivan said. “They come from families and backgrounds that have never trusted law enforcement, and it is my responsibility to earn that trust… I participate in every conversation, especially when I don’t know anyone, seeking to earn that trust. confidence.”
Sullivan expressed hope that he can develop strong relationships with individual students and that the CSS as a whole will follow his lead.
“We are going to involve the community more,” he said. “I’m the type of guy who will come to everything from hockey games… to open mic night. I’ll be an Eph. This is what is important to me. And it’s important that the rest of the department [are Ephs] also.”
In addition to creating a community between CSS and the student body, Sullivan said he hopes to lead a department and create a campus where everyone feels safe, regardless of who they are. “I am a black man,” he said. “I’ve worked in places where I might not have been welcome, I grew up in places where I might not have been welcome, so I understand that. But what I also understand is how to build trust in groups. This is what I have been doing for the past five years. And I would like to do it here.