Editors-in-Chief Katie Walsh ‘20 and Ethan Ehrenhaft ‘20

Chief Julian Coaxum in his new office. Photo by Hannah Dugan ‘21

The Davidsonian: When and why did you first decide to pursue a career in law enforcement?

Chief Julian Coaxum: I come from a service family. Most of the people, especially my father, my uncles, and my grandfather were military. My dad was a fireman and his brother was a Uniformed Secret Service Officer. So growing up, I had an opportunity to be raised around fire departments and my uncle in the police department. I guess it was a coin toss between being a fireman and being a police officer, and the police won. So that’s really where it started for me.

Q: How would you compare your presence as a law enforcement officer on a college campus versus off of one? 

A: Well, my 20-year experience has been on a college campus. I’ve been fortunate enough to work for agencies where they have statewide authority that extends beyond the campus. But the reality of it is that there are similarities and differences to policing on and off campuses. At the end of the day, it’s all about preservation of life, property, and the maintaining of order in society. On a college campus, we probably do a little bit more when it comes down to building interpersonal relationships. The bedrock of university policing is community policing, because you’re here in this community having interactions, whereas most city police departments may or may not have everyday interactions with the people they serve. On college campuses, you have not only every day, but you have day and night relationships, because most of the people that we serve tend to live on the campus. We see you on your first day, sometimes we see you on your last day, but we see you as you grow, mature, and matriculate throughout the time that you spend on campus with us. It is definitely, in my opinion, this is the epitome of community-oriented policing.

Q: We know that you actually attended Johnson C. Smith University and played football against Davidson back in the day. So we’re curious about what you knew about Davidson back then and what appealed to you about coming to Davidson now? 

A: Well, having spent time in this area, you learn about the different schools and which schools have great academic reputations. Davidson always had a great academic reputation. A lot of schools nowadays are going to large conferences to try to expand their footprint and their presence on a national stage, but things were more local back then. We definitely tended to engage with each other a little bit closer back then, but, as I said before, Davidson always had a great reputation. And so, when the opportunity and vacancy arose, it was kind of a no-brainer. I had never heard anything negative about Davidson. To have an opportunity to come back and be a part of a really great institution with a really good reputation — not only locally, but nationally — and to be closer to home, that was a win-win situation for me.

Q: The Honor Code’s intersections with law enforcement is an interesting dynamic on campus that’s specific to Davidson. We wondered if you could speak to that?

A: That’s a good question. This is the first university that I’ve ever been affiliated with that has something as embedded within the university as the Honor Code is here. Every school has a version of it now, but the fact that you guys have this as one of the fibers that runs through the fabric of Davidson is unique in a very positive way. I think it tends to lend itself to that sense of community. Everyone here is supportive of everyone else, to the point where you look out for each other and if someone violates the Honor Code, that person is pretty much persona-non-grata because you feel like you’ve let us down. We all come here and we all have this common mindset of supporting each other but also supporting Davidson. That is unique and impressive at the same time. I definitely think that it helps to build the sense of family and the sense of ownership that people who are affiliated with Davidson have.

Q: Sometimes people feel that the Honor Code precludes certain acts of crime on campus or insulates them. Since there is that community of trust and quasi-family, I was just wondering if you could talk to that a little bit?

A: Anytime there is an expectation that you do not commit crimes against the community because any time a crime is committed someone is the victim, whether an individual person, the community, the state, the university. So therefore, when you have this Honor Code that attempts to create an environment in which we are not predatory in our actions, it does preclude certain types of criminal behavior. The reality of it is that the laws of society are basically extensions of how most people are taught to treat each other. You don’t take things that don’t belong to you, you don’t destroy things that belong to other people. Those are the kind of things that, in order for us to have a society of laws, everything doesn’t have to come down to “Oh, you did this. You broke the law.” Sometimes it’s a mistake. Sometimes people will find property. The other day, I walked in the door and someone had turned in an ID under the door. That’s not a crime, but they could have easily just thrown it in the trash. Instead, they chose not to, because they knew that somebody had lost it and was probably looking for it. That’s just common decency, and you hope that someone will do the same thing for you. So I do believe that the Honor Code does help to preclude or definitely discourage certain types of criminal activity.

Q: Our Student Center for Health and Wellbeing recently rebranded over the past semester and is really focused on providing resources to victims of sexual assault at Davidson. What as a police chief do you see becoming of the relationship between you and the center? Are there any parallels to your previous work at Dillard?

A: Well you always want to make sure you have a good partnership, whether it be with Health Services, or the counseling center, or with off campus partners that you may utilize. Anybody that will be a part of that process of offering support to a potential victim. You want to make sure that you’ve got good communication and that you’ve got an understanding of how each area works, because sometimes there are things that you’re mandated to do from a medical standpoint and from a law enforcement standpoint. If an incident happens, we have to work together, but we also have to respect the fact that we have responsibilities to regulatory agencies that we have to make sure that we’re in compliance with. I’m definitely in favor of strong partnerships and strong relationships so that there’s not a breakdown in which the victim is not being serviced.

Q: What ways are you looking forward to getting to know the student body in the coming weeks?

A: I’ve had a series of meet and greets similar to the one I’m having with you right now, so that’s where people get an opportunity to know me. As I walk through the cafeteria to grab breakfast or lunch, and as I just walk around campus, I’m continuing to introduce myself. I’ve been asked to do some presentations and I’ve been continuing the presentations on active threat, active shooter situations that Chief Sigler started. We definitely are still fully committed to making sure that those programs and anything that was being done by the previous administration will continue to be done.

Q: Is there any one thing about Davidson or a piece of advice that Chief Siegler left you with that stood out to you?

A: One thing he did tell me was that Davidson is a special place. The people here care about Davidson. So, with that being said, I feel a responsibility to come in and to continue the good work that he was doing and continue to give you guys my best. At the same time, I want to figure out not only how I can help Davidson, but how Davidson allows me to grow, because at the end of the day, I want to continue to get better. I don’t want to just keep rehashing what I’ve done in my career. I want to come here to a new place and take what I do to the next level so that you all will benefit from that as well. That’s my goal, but as I said before, it’s a lot in two weeks. I get a lot of requests, but that’s a good thing. I definitely feel that continuing to do things like this and let people get an opportunity to get to know me is going to be good.