Black Calif. Professor Says Campus Safety Officers Asked Her to Prove She Lived in Her Own House
"They wanted my brother and me to know that we didn't belong here. That there was no safe space for us," Danielle Fuentes Morgan says after the incident near Santa Clara University
A Black assistant professor at a Northern California university is speaking out after she says a visit from her brother went terribly wrong when campus safety officers followed him to her university-owned house and "harassed" her and her family.
Danielle Fuentes Morgan tells PEOPLE she's struggling to move past Saturday's incident involving her brother Carlos Fuentes and the campus safety officers at Santa Clara University, where she has worked since September 2016.
"It's been overwhelming. How do you move forward from this incident?" she says. "How can I begin to feel comfortable when I return to campus, or even just existing in my home, knowing that these officers know my name, my face, my address and see me now as a troublemaker at best?"
"Additionally, my brother was only in town for the weekend, so now he's gone," she adds. "Our entire time together was consumed by this incident, and I'm not sure when we will feel it's safe to see each other again. It's devastating."
Morgan, 36, first opened up about the encounter with campus safety in a lengthy Twitter thread on Saturday, explaining that her brother, 32, came to visit her at SCU after eight months apart due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With a work meeting scheduled for 8:30 a.m., Fuentes headed to SCU's "beautiful" campus across the street, which Morgan noted is "specifically designed so that students, faculty and staff have the opportunity to work outside."
But as he sat there with his books and computer, Morgan said campus security approached him and "told him to move along."
Morgan said Fuentes complied and moved toward the street — an area Morgan said "he thought was no longer on campus" — but the security officers insisted, again, that he leave the university and eventually had four patrol cars show up at the scene.
As Fuentes made his way to his sister's home, Morgan said the officers followed him. By the time he arrived, Morgan recalled opening the door to her apologetic brother, who said "they're demanding you come out and vouch for me."
"I, of course, knew exactly who 'they' were," Morgan wrote. "When I came out, the officer very aggressively demanded to see my campus ID 'to prove you are who he says you are and that you actually live here.'"
While inside, Morgan got her ID and her husband, who is white. She said the couple made their way back to the officer and continued to be questioned about whether they lived there, while her husband argued that Morgan was not required to show any ID.
Eventually, Morgan claimed on Twitter, "I asked what the issue was and he said my brother was 'in the bushes' and it was 'suspicious' and they thought he may have been homeless. I asked why I needed to show ID at my own home. He said 'Well, it's not your home. The University owns it.'"
A staff member with SCU's Campus Safety tells PEOPLE, "Since the time of COVID and shut-down of the university campus, we've had a tremendous increase in the number of homeless folks that have come through campus."
"The area that they were talking about is a place where the homeless go to hang out," the staffer adds. "It is not a bench in front of the library on campus — it is a secluded, dirt area off the front of campus where there is a ton of vegetation that separates the view of campus to this area."
While the overall encounter up to that point was troubling for Morgan, she tells PEOPLE that being told it was not her home was the most heart-wrenching part of it.
"It was a petty statement that demonstrated the officers' desire for me to know my place, or in this case, my placelessness," she says. "They wanted my brother and me to know that we didn't belong here, that there was no safe space for us, that our bodily autonomy was irrelevant, or perhaps that it didn't exist."
In her Twitter thread, Morgan argued to the officers that she "was one of 7 Black faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences and that our student body population is 2% Black. I told them that the anti-Blackness they espouse and practice is part of the reason why."
She also said her husband came to her defense, claiming that the officers "don't harass anyone white on campus, ever" and pointed out that their neighbors — some of whom came outside during the incident — were not treated in the same manner.
"My husband asked what, to their mind, we should do to not be harassed and followed," Morgan recalled. "They said 'Stay in open spaces.' That answer is unclear and insufficient."
In the wake of the incident, SCU's President Kevin O'Brien S.J issued a letter to the campus community, where he apologized to Morgan and her family. The note also included measures that would be taken, including an independent investigation, putting the officers on administrative leave and a review of SCU's practices and policies.
"To Professor @mos_daf and her family: I am deeply sorry for the hurtful incident that happened today," he wrote in a tweet. "No work is more important than our efforts to realize a more inclusive, welcoming and safe campus where all are respected and valued."
In a statement to PEOPLE, SCU's Campus Safety staffer mentions its "very diverse team" and the investigation.
"I look forward to the outcome that's going to vindicate what this situation was," the staffer says. "It was us asking somebody who was not supposed to be on campus to move along and that person moved along to a university house that we had to, at least, make sure that person was connected to that house."
"When the facts come out, it will paint a different picture," he adds. "This isn't to take away from [Morgan's] feelings or emotions of past events and things that have happened in her life, but that's not this case. We're not those folks."
However, in an additional statement provided to PEOPLE after this story was published, a spokesperson of SCU says, "The statements made by a staff member of SCU Campus Safety were not authorized and do not reflect the University's position. We have initiated an investigation. Regardless of the outcome of that investigation, we would like to reiterate our apology to Professor Morgan and her family. They are beloved and valued members of the community."
As for Morgan, she says she's feeling unsure about her safety on campus but is speaking out in hopes that the experience "opens up broader conversations on campuses across the country about racism and the role of policing."
"This isn't just a Santa Clara issue; this is a national disgrace," she says. "When will Black and brown students be made to feel safe and protected on campuses? When will Black and brown faculty and students?"
"I never come to campus alone at night for fears that I'll be asked to prove I belong," she adds. "I don't know when I'll feel comfortable returning. It's a terrible feeling."
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
• Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
• ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.
• National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.