Building on a solid foundation

The Bias Incident Reporting Task Force recently published a report of two semesters’ work, which President Falk released to the campus via e-mail on Friday. The report is a welcome catalogue of the committee’s thoughts and the scope of bias incidents at the College. While we realize that the report itself is only one important aspect of improving communication about bias incidents, we are grateful the College examined and improved its response to these negative occurrences on campus, particularly following calls for such examination in the aftermath of last November’s hate crime.

Although we think that the recent report and its protocol are thorough, there remain a few areas for improvement. First, we would like the task force to clearly and explicitly define what constitutes a bias incident. While it is difficult to place labels on these sorts of incidents, with encouraging students to report incidents more often and more freely comes the need to be specific about what they ought to report. While the College’s annual Clery Report, which was e-mailed to students on Oct. 1, did define a bias incident in broad terms, the Bias Incident Reporting Task Force itself does not explicitly define the term, suggesting that what constitutes a bias incident has not yet been fully communicated to the College community. As part of its overarching mission of education, it makes sense for the Bias Incident Reporting Task Force to take up the task of defining and publicizing the definition of a bias incident.

We appreciate the task force’s goal of broadly educating our community about aspects of campus culture that trigger bias incidents and insensitive behavior, but we want to be clear that training Junior Advisors (JAs), Baxter Fellows and other peer leaders needs to be more carefully considered. Specifically, we need to assess the responsibility we place on these individuals in providing a solution to the problem of campus culture that extends far beyond their spheres of influence. Certainly, equipping as many community members as possible with the knowledge of how to respond sensitively to a victim of a bias incident is a notable goal, but too often this burden is placed disproportionately on these group leaders. Baxter Fellows and JAs do not need to be the stand-alone medium through which College policy and campus culture discussions begin. For something as serious and weighty as bias incidents, effective communication and education between the administration and the larger student body, directly, would be ideal.

In thinking about expanding and strengthening the lines of communication across the College in the event of a bias incident, we commend the task force for considering the revival, albeit in a modified form, of the Williams Speaks Up website as a means for victims or witnesses of bias incidents to report the occurrence. This venue of communication is useful for students who do not feel comfortable reporting directly to Security or the administration, and the committee’s thoughtfulness and inclusivity on this matter are worth noting. However, it is a larger issue if students are in fact hesitant or too uncomfortable to approach Security or the administration when such incidents occur. This phenomenon itself calls for further examination, either within the context of the further work of the four focus groups continuing the task force’s work or elsewhere on campus.

We understand that students who are uncomfortable reporting bias incidents in person or via phone would likely prefer the web-based reporting tool to function as an anonymous tip line. But as the task force goes forward in possibly implementing such a tool, we want to stress the value of requiring students, staff or faculty to log in with their College identification to use the website. It was indicated in the report that this was a topic of much conversation within the task force itself, and we at the Record want to ensure that this decision continues to receive the attention it requires as discussions about the site’s implementation move forward. While a victim’s identity should not be heavily associated with the investigation that follows reporting an incident, it is important to ensure that only members of the College community have access to the site and that a first point of contact is established as Security and the administration respond to any reports.

It is commendable that the task force acknowledges its report as both a concrete set of procedural guidelines and a flexible document that can evolve along with our community. Most importantly, the task force has stated that it plans to continue what it has begun by continuing to work as four specialized focus groups dedicated to crisis management and communication protocol, bias incident prevention and response infrastructure, reporting website development and education. We look forward to cohesive discussion between these subcommittees, Students Against Silence, the administration and other campus groups who often address these issues moving forward. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, we look forward to individual students stepping up to educate and inform one another as we all work together to create a more respectful, understanding community.

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