Administration, students tackle bias on campus
Understanding the process of handling reported bias incidents
Published: Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 08:11
For a school that prides itself on being open−minded and politically correct, name calling, graffiti and harassment based on race, gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity all occur frequently at Tufts. These acts constitute bias incidents and are dealt with through a variety of student and administrative channels.
Reported incidents that are deemed bias incidents and consist of investigations that have been concluded are publically listed on WebCenter. According to the site, bias incidents “may but do not always include the use of slurs, derogatory language, or negative images. Incidents may include chalking, graffiti, images, written messages, the defacement or alteration of signs, posters, verbal epithets and violent acts.” Last year, 27 total bias incidents were published on this list.
The incidents are processed individually and eventually compiled and summarized on WebCenter by the Administrative Contact Team.
This team is made up of four members, currently Associate Dean of Student Affairs Marisel Perez, Director of the Department of Diversity Education and Development Margery Davies, University President Anthony Monaco’s Chief of Staff Michael Baenen and Director of the Office of Intercultural and Social Identities Program Katrina Moore.
According to Perez, a bias incident can be reported in three ways: by an individual through WebCenter, by a resident assistant (RA) or resident director (RD) through an Office of Residential Life and Learning (ORLL) report or by the police. All reports go immediately to Perez, who then reaches out to the person reporting the incident to offer support.
“Some of this stuff can be hurtful and I want to make sure that the student, if they want to talk to somebody else in addition to myself for counseling, they can do that,” Perez said. “Some students don’t want that, they say ‘I’m okay, I just want to make sure somebody knows,’ and I respect that.”
Perez transfers the report to the Administrative Contact Team, which reviews the incident to ensure that it contains bias according to definitions of bias from Massachusetts’ anti−discrimination law, according to Davies. Davies said that the team’s decision on bias in a given incident is very basic.
“It’s a very light filter, making that decision. Did that affect one of the target groups? Did it actually happen? We need to have a certain amount of vetting of reports,” she said. “What one person perceives as a bias incident may not be perceived by another [as a] a bias incident.”
The Team decides on an appropriate response, which can include investigation, judicial action or mediation, depending on the incident. Gender−related incidents can be referred to the Office of Equal Opportunity for investigation, and incidents that are classified as hate crimes, meaning that a law has been broken, are referred to the Office of Judicial Affairs.
Filing a judicial complaint, though, is a separate process from reporting a bias incident. If the event is particularly serious or public, it may warrant a university−wide statement from the Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman or even the University President, depending on its severity.
“Every so often, something really serious happens. The other things are still serious because they contribute to the atmosphere and climate at Tufts, [but] there’s a difference between seeing something scrawled in a bathroom and being attacked,” Davies said.
Students Promoting Equality, Awareness and Compassion (SPEAC) also provides an educational response to bias incidents. SPEAC is a student group under the Office of Student Affairs that offers a variety of programming to further an open and accepting campus environment, in addition to providing training for Orientation leaders (OL) and resident assistants. Perez serves as advisor to SPEAC, which receives updates on current bias incidents on which to base its programs.
In addition, Perez runs mediation between the affected parties in the bias incident, if both sides agree to engage in mediation. She emphasized her commitment to educational methods toward resolving the hurt and anger resulting from a bias incident.
“I believe in education, because to punish somebody without processing what happened, it creates anger and resentment. That’s my philosophy,” Perez said. “Even when mediation has been reached and requirements have been fulfilled ... it takes time to come to terms with oneself and resolve feelings.”
At the end of the year, the Contact Team publishes the complete list of finalized bias incidents on WebCenter with summaries of the event. According to Perez, the content of the incident summary has changed in recent years to become more descriptive, including specific locations, although the people involved remain anonymous.
She cited past debate within the Team about whether to publish full expletives involved in incidents, with some saying that doing so would emphasize the hurtful potential of the word. The Team decided to retain the words with asterisks.
The Team also reviews patterns in the type and locations of bias incidents. Perez and Davies both referenced a high number of gender−related incidents this past year.
Correspondingly, SPEAC has focused its programming around gender, including its RA and OL training. In addition, when incidents cluster in certain halls, SPEAC may run focused events in those residences.
Both Davies and Perez affirm that this system of reporting and publicizing bias incidents attempts to create awareness on campus, with the ultimate aim of prevention of bias incidents.
“We want to try and create a campus where people feel comfortable, where they’re not going to be subject to things like this. We can’t stop it from happening but we do take it seriously,” Davies said. “I’m hoping that having his system will make people think about things they do and say.”