Task force elucidates new protocols for bias incident reporting

After nearly two semesters of examining the bias incident reporting protocol of peer institutions, as well as the resources already available at the College, the Bias Incident Reporting Task Force has completed its recommendations on how the administration should immediately handle bias incidents when students, faculty or staff are targeted and, as part of this overarching plan, has conceptualized a web-based reporting tool for victims. The committee has presented its developments to the administration, and President Falk released the committee’s report to the campus via e-mail on Friday.

As both Falk’s e-mail and the report explain, the Bias Incident Reporting Task Force was formed after many community members deemed the administration’s response to last November’s hate crime insufficient. The committee, composed of 13 students, faculty and staff, worked last spring and this fall “to determine the best protocol for response to bias incidents of all kinds, to include support, communication, investigation and other aspects of response that will work as well as possible for those targeted by incidents and for the Williams community as a whole,” according to Falk’s e-mail.

Recommended protocol

Much of the committee’s recent report was dedicated to the specific protocol recommended for response to bias incidents. Steve Klass, vice president for Campus Life and the chair of the Bias Incident Reporting Task Force, said that one significant outcome of the committee’s work is the institutionalization of specific protocol for response. “We’ve refined and documented a flexible protocol, while defining the need for a more well-resourced infrastructure of support and guidance for victims and witnesses,” he said.

If a Campus Safety and Security dispatcher receives a call from a student stating that a bias incident may have occurred, a Security officer is sent to the scene and required to locate the victim or the person who witnessed the behavior to document whatever information this individual can provide.

According to protocol, the officer will then ask the individual what he or she needs in terms of immediate support, such as speaking to a dean, and remain with the individual until this support arrives. The officer will also document the site of the incident with photos and notes, protect the site as a crime scene when appropriate and not remove any offensive materials until instructed to do so. However, the report notes that the officer should cover any offending materials at the site as much as possible without disturbing a potential crime scene or removing physical evidence.

Next, the officer will assist police or other law officers in investigating the incident. This includes consulting with law enforcement and the director of Security, the dean of the College, the vice president for Campus Life and the Bias Incident Response Team.

To keep lines of communication open in the aftermath of a bias incident, the task force has determined that after Security’s dispatcher receives a report of an incident and sends an officer to the site, he or she will call the director of Security, the Security shift supervisor and the dean on call.

The director of Security will call both Williamstown Police Department (WPD) and the dean of the College. The security shift supervisor will work with the director of Security and WPD to manage an on-site investigation of the incident.  The dean on call will contact the victim of the incident and may come to campus if deemed necessary.

Depending on the nature of the incident, the dean of the College may contact the vice president for Campus Life, the president, the vice president for strategic planning and institutional diversity, the Bias Incident Response Team, the Davis Center, the Health Center, Psychological Counseling Services, the Chaplains’ office, the deans or athletic coaches.

In the event that Security receives a report of a bias incident toward a faculty or staff member, the protocol for site response is nearly identical. However, when the incident involves a faculty member, the director of Security will call WPD and the dean of the faculty; when the incident affects a staff member, the director of Security will call WPD and the vice president for Campus Life.

The dean of the faculty or the vice president for Campus Life may then contact the victim, the president, the vice president for strategic planning and institutional diversity, the dean of the College or the Bias Incident Response Team if these individuals are not already involved.

Developing a web-based reporting system 

In considering students’ and others’ comfort in reporting bias incidents directly or via phone to Security or the administration, the Bias Incident Reporting Task Force’s recent report touched on the possibility of reviving the Williams Speaks Up website for use as a viable online reporting tool. The website, which is currently defunct, was created in 2008 following the occurrence of racist and homophobic bias incidents on campus. According to the report, the 2008 site was designed not to exist as a “real-time, interactive reporting tool,” but instead “to collect and archive reports over time.” As it is now defunct, the site would need an “effective communications campaign” if it is to be restarted, the report notes.

“Our primary goal is to create as many options for comfortable, intuitive reporting as we can, one of which is an effective web-based tool,” Klass said of the Bias Incident Response Task Force’s goal in writing its report. “We’ve had other web-based reporting tools in the past for these types of incidents and for others. Historically, they’ve not been well used. We hope to have something available for use during the current academic year … It’s about refining our final draft, getting it on the web, developing the infrastructure to support it and then rolling out a communications strategy.”

In the last month of its work, the task force has implemented four focus groups, and each will continue to meet even now that the report has been published. The four groups include one to enact the proposed response protocols; one to strengthen the infrastructure for victim support, including counseling services, informal support mechanisms and the designation of safe spaces; one to facilitate reporting on bias incidents and understanding of available support options via the Internet and other venues; and one to carry out the programs of general education and discussion about aspects of campus culture that lead to bias incidents.

“We have work to do in each of these areas, to refine and build on the recommendations of the task force going forward,” Klass said. “We don’t want this [report] to become a static document or a single protocol for responding to events in a specific manner. We still have a lot of work to do to make this the inclusive, healthy community we envision. Our objective was to build a living document that is owned by the campus community and that can be reshaped to fit the evolving needs of our changing campus. This is, of course, just one set of tools toward achieving our goals.”