Bassage ’15 Examined Police-Community Relations – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Bassage ’15 Examined Police-Community Relations

With national news headlines highlighting tensions between communities and police departments, Zack Bassage ’15 delved into the issue on the local level through an independent study project, “Police Attitudes: Cynicism in the Age of Cultural Diversity Training,” that culminated in his senior year.

Advised by Professor of Dance and Coordinator of the Social Justice Studies program Donna Davenport, Bassage conducted research over the course of a year and a half, focusing on the factors that cause disillusionment among police officers as well as its effects.

Bassage’s interest in the topic was originally sparked by a course in race and ethnic relations, which he took in the fall 2014 with Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Sociology Kendralin Freeman.

“After taking Professor Freeman’s course, I felt empowered to do a project that had the potential to begin an important dialogue in Geneva about race relations,” says Bassage, a music major and social justice studies minor. “Her course taught me to think in a very nuanced and different way.”

Before his independent study research, Bassage explored the topic further with his classmates in Davenport’s introductory social justice studies course. The group focused in particular on the Geneva Community Compact, an agreement that sought to alleviate tensions between the Geneva citizens of color and the predominantly white police force following the fatal shooting of Geneva resident William Corey Jackson in 2011.

Benny Calderon ’17, Matt Cragg ’17 and Molly Doris-Pierce ’15 also contributed to the research for Davenport’s class, as did Davenport herself, who conducted interviews for the project. Using interviews from an array of community leaders, law enforcement officials, and other Geneva residents, the group sought to track the compact’s follow-through and impacts.

They eventually presented their findings at the Engaged Scholarship Forum in May 2014. In the spring of 2015, they submitted a brief, outlining their findings and recommendations, to Geneva Police Chief Jeffrey Trickler with the hope of improving relations between Geneva’s police force and the community.

“Never expecting my dance career to end up here, I have felt honored as a citizen of Geneva and coordinator of the Social Justices Studies program to facilitate community-based research and the social justice passions of both Bassage and Rashaun Moore ’14,” says Davenport, noting Moore, who completed his own independent study research on a similar topic in 2014. “Running parallel to ongoing national incidents of racist police brutality, as well as horrible attacks against police in the U.S. and abroad, this research could not be more relevant.”

Based on his research, Bassage argued that officers are more likely to become cynical at a faster rate than usual under the current political atmosphere. “I hoped to create some incentive for officers to want to change the policies that would address the needs of marginalized groups in Geneva and to help foster a more empathic understanding of these marginalized groups,” says Bassage.

Now, with the project complete, Bassage says that he would eventually like to reach an agreement with Trickler to administer a survey that measures police cynicism amongst his officers, a first step toward mitigating such attitudes.