I wrote this complaint to Public Safety after the incident I described in it. Read on…
I went to the Public Safety headquarters for a replacement prox at approximately 11:30 AM this past Saturday because I had left mine in my eating club. A friend had picked it up for me, but I couldn’t meet with her at the time but needed to get back into my room.
Judging by the photos in your staff directory, I believe I was helped by Jo-Ann Tanderpitt* when I arrived at the Dispatcher office window. I gave her my name, spelled out, as well as my room number when submitting my request. Jo-Ann had trouble finding me in the system, so I repeated and spelled out my name again at least twice. By this point, I would estimate five minutes had elapsed. I did not say anything to Jo-Ann aside from answering the questions she asked me, which as I remember were, in this order, “where did you leave it?” (to which I responded, “an eating club”) “is it in your room?” (“No, it’s in an eating club, but I couldn’t find it when I checked”).
I presume that the question Jo-Ann asked me next was not intended to offend. It is possible that Jo-Ann was simply ignorant of how racist and offensive she was being. It is also possible that she was fully aware and simply didn’t care or perhaps slipped up because she was growing impatient at her inability to find my name in the system–and it was strongly suggested by her exasperated tone of voice and redundant questions that this was a factor. We may simply never know. But the reason I am writing to you with my complaint is that Jo-Ann asked me if Elizabeth was my “English name.” I’m not sure who is reading this, but it really doesn’t matter. Anyone–not only a non-white person who has experienced racial discrimination countless times before–with the faintest idea of how the world works should be able to see why this is question is completely unacceptable. I responded, “That’s my name.” A name is a name, and I was not only insulted by the implication that because I’m Asian I would have an implied “real Asian name” and take on a “English name,” but also the implication that even if that were the case, which is a personal choice that I don’t feel one way or another about, that I wouldn’t know enough to tell her my “real name” that would be in the system. This made me feel marginalized and angry enough to write to you today.
Jo-Ann’s behavior–not only her question, but also her brusque demeanor throughout our whole ten-minute interaction–made me lose a lot of respect for your department. I’ve taken informative and fun RAD classes with several of your officers. I’ve been helped by other wonderfully kind and friendly Dispatch employees before. I even worked for your department during Reunions. I know that the way Jo-Ann represented your department on Saturday is not representative of your department as a whole. This is why I would not like to be contacted to gather more information and simply want to be done with this once I submit this complaint. But if I were someone else without my past experience and Jo-Ann had behaved this way to me, I wouldn’t be able to give your department the benefit of the doubt. I trust that whoever is in the position to rectify this situation will know the best course of action, but I will suggest that Jo-Ann be briefed on sensitivity and customer service or suspended from interacting with patrons so as to avoid another embarrassing incident where a student is made to feel marginalized and the Department of Public Safety and Princeton University as a whole are made to look incompetent, tactless, and uneducated.
*Name has been changed to protect the guilty.
UPDATE: This is the response I received from the Associate Director of Support Services:
Hello Ms Lian,
I will respect your wishes, to the best of my ability, regarding not contacting you about your unfortunate and negative experience with a Public Safety staff member. I write to let you know that we take complaints seriously and I will conduct a full investigation into your concern. I wish to apologize in advance for you feeling marginalized and disrespected during your service interaction with DPS. Community caretaking is our number one priority and we will make sure that all of our officers uphold that standard. Please feel free to reach out to me directly if you wish.