‘This one will never heal properly’: Police called on black UMass Amherst employee walking to his office

Reginald Andrade, a 14-year employee of the college, was walking to his office with his gym bag when someone anonymously called campus police.

UMass Amherst students head across campus.
UMass Amherst students head across campus. –Jonathan Wiggs / The Boston Globe

Like he does most mornings, Reginald Andrade, a longtime employee at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, began last Friday by working out at the recreation center on campus. Afterward, he walked to his office at the Whitmore Administration building, carrying his gym bag.

At around 7:45 a.m., someone saw Andrade, who is black, and phoned the university police department’s anonymous tip line, stating that they saw “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,” according to an e-mail from Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy to the university community.

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About an hour after the call, campus police officers shut down the Whitmore building and searched for the man matching the description. Two officers found Andrade in his office and questioned him. He said the officers’ questions ranged from asking when he arrived on campus that day to whether he was “agitated.”

The building was closed off for under 30 minutes, according to The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, which first reported the story.

“There are so many people with bags,” Andrade, the manager for the school’s department of disability services, said in an interview Monday, adding that he was “minding my own business.”

The incident left him shaken. He wants people to know about racial profiling and that someone can just be walking — “an ordinary, mundane, everyday task” — and have the police called on them.

Things “probably never will change,” Andrade said.

“It’s been this way for many years, just the stereotypes which have been ongoing in the United States of America for hundreds of years,” he said.

“We hope that the anonymous tip that precipitated this incident was well-motivated to protect public safety,” Subbaswamy wrote in his email. “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.”

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Ed Blaguszewski, the university’s executive director of strategic communications and special assistant to the vice chancellor, noted that campus police knew “within an hour” that there wasn’t a threat. He called the response “standard police protocol.”

“The response of the police was very much tied to the specifics of the message,” he said. “The decision by the police was focused on the perceived behavior described in the message.”

Police directed Andrade to services and support, Blaguszewski said.

“To endure that hardship is very difficult and distressing,” he said. “That is one of the principal points we want to get across. … We are absolutely understanding and supportive of the difficulty that he went through. No one should have to go through that if at all possible.”

Just 4 percent of the university’s staff are black or African, according to its Office of Institutional Research. Over three-quarters of the staff are white, 9 percent are Asian, and 4 percent are Hispanic or Latino, and it’s about the same breakdown for faculty, as well as undergraduate and graduate students. 

Though Friday’s incident is over, Andrade said he has experienced taxing emotional effects.

“It never gets better,” he said. “It just gets worse.”

Andrade said this is the third time he’s been questioned by police while going about his daily life. He said the first incident occurred while he was a student at UMass Amherst. He sat in an empty classroom listening to an audiobook, and someone saw him and called the police, who asked for his identification, he said. 

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He said the second time was about four years ago. He was on campus for a new student event where his office had a table set up to give out pamphlets and information. He took a break and went to the restroom near his office. Two officers showed up and asked him why he was in there, Andrade said.

Whenever Andrade is around campus, even if it’s just to the restroom, he said he always takes his university identification with him as a precaution.

Andrade compared his experience to a sprained ankle, saying it takes longer to heal after each time it happens.

“This one will never heal properly,” he said.

On July 31, Smith College student Oumou Kanote had campus police called on her by a college employee who said the 21-year-old black woman “seem[ed] out of place” while eating her lunch in one of the campus buildings during a break from her campus job. 

Kanoute recently wrote a piece for the American Civil Liberties Union on how the experience has clouded her college career. The now sophomore detailed how what happened turned her “dream come true” into “a nightmare,” describing the “familiar look of suspicion from a college employee who questioned my presence in the dining hall.”

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