An Homage to the MIT Campus Police

 An Homage to the MIT Campus PoliceMIT was my home for so many years and its people are still my people.  So my heart broke wide open when I heard about the violent murder of Campus Police (CP) Officer Sean Collier the other night, probably at the hands of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers.  Even though I didn’t know Officer Collier (he came to MIT after I had left, so I never knew him personally), I’ve been unable to settle down ever since.  The only thing I know to do is to write.

Few campus police departments are as loved by their communities as MIT’s.  These wonderful professionals honestly love the students, who can be confounding in their brilliant and sometimes incomprehensible immaturity at times.  MIT students are, afterall, still young and very, very intellectually advanced for their age, endowed with preter-normal curiosity and creativity.  They are also from everywhere on Planet Earth, which makes for quite an exciting environment.  But because they are from everywhere, there is often a cultural bias against law enforcement, which makes the job of the MIT Campus Police a highly sensitive one.  Those police must have patience, humor and kindness as they do their jobs to keep that diverse community safe.  They are masters at creating the ‘invisible safety net’ required there.

The murder of a CP must be devastating for that community because these police make it a point to spend lots of quality time with students in a sincere effort to build rapport.  Although I never met Officer Collier, I have known many CPs well through the years and now want to give a great shout out to three CPs in particular who are my dear friends at MIT and who exemplify the best that law enforcement can offer: Sgt. Cheryl Vossmer, Chief of Staff Al Pierce and Chief of Police John Di Fava.

Cheryl Vossmer looks little more than a student herself, a beautiful little slip of a thing with a 3000W personality combined with Big City street smarts.  She’s on first name basis with nearly everyone on campus, stopping kids along the Infinite Corridor to check in on how their most recent exams went.  She’s hilarious and fun and doesn’t hesitate to offer tough-love, big sister style. One awful day when she dropped by my office to break the news that a third female undergraduate had killed herself, this time by setting her room on fire, the news made my knees buckle – as Dean of Admissions I had declared war on suicide among my kids.  Cheryl reached out to grab me to keep me from hitting the ground.  She quietly held me as I sobbed and softly, calmly reminded me that it wasn’t my fault, that there was nothing we’d missed, that this was a perfect tragedy.  I will never forget her compassion.  Cheryl organized ‘late night breakfasts’ for students during exam week, staffed by administrators and faculty, including the President.   She felt that the students needed the extra TLC at their most stressed moments and that we staff and faculty needed to be the ones to offer that.  She was right on.  No one could say no to her.  😉  Gotta love Cheryl Vosmer.  To know her is to love her forever more.

Al Pierce is an Adonis of a man, a giant of sorts, standing a full head taller than others in his iconic leather jacket, quick to laugh and call out to passersby, clearly enjoying his work on campus.  A former MA State Policeman (homicide division), he creates a powerful yet gentle presence on campus.  Often dealing with the most sensitive and tragic cases, Al has those big shoulders that others naturally sink into during the hard moments.  I saw him in action many times.  He broke the news to one of my staff that her husband of less than a year had died suddenly of a heart attack.  How do you tell someone that, how do you break the most shocking and shattering news to them at 9:30am?  You do it Al’s way… softly, kindly, with love and respect.  I saw him work his legendary negotiation skills with the hacker community when someone got hurt during a hack and it appeared the hackers were in the cross-hairs of the Institute.  Al would have none of that.  He knew many of the students personally and yet had to enforce Institute rules. We in Admissions were able to broker a meeting between them and the Campus Police led by Al.  At meeting’s end, all parties were satisfied, no one was hurt and all was well.  I credit the masterful listening and communicating skills of this wonderful man.

And quite frankly, there is no one like Chief John DiFava.  Just days after he retired as the head of the MA State Police to join MIT, two aircraft were hijacked out of Logan Airport in Boston and flown into the World Trade Center, killing thousands, on Sept 11.  That very day, the Governor put John in charge of security at Logan.  This delayed his arrival on campus by many weeks.  He did an outstanding job with that, as he does with everything.  I came to work with him closely over the years and we were Leadershape buddies.  We women staff affectionately referred to John as ‘the man of steel’, a reference to his muscles which are very very hard.  The man works out!  😉  He’s a loving family man and is an extraordinary professional.   Just the sound of John’s voice has a calming effect on everyone around him.  And now he’s involved with a second terrorist attack on US soil. ..what are the chances?  All I could think of was “thank God John’s there.”

MIT is so lucky to count these gifted people among its family.

It’s been frustrating to be in NYC during Boston’s week of hell.  I am trained in trauma relief, afterall, and there is such a need there now.  I feel helpless, unable to be there for so many in pain.

On the way home from church this morning, I walked past a pop-up blood donation center and found myself wandering in to give blood for the first time in 20 years.  I was thinking about Sean Collier and his family.  I was thinking about Cheryl, Al and John.  I was thinking about MIT and Boston and the group of runners in their characteristic light blue Boston Marathon jackets who sat next to me last week at a restaurant at Chicago O’Hare. They were clearly headed to Boston to run and they ruined my lunch with loud banter about running times and strategies that I didn’t understand.   I wonder how they all fared.

A pint of type B+ blood isn’t much to offer, but still, it’s something.  And it eases my heart.

Less Stress, More Success

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