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
SPEAC shares similar goals with the administration. According to SPEAC co−coordinator junior Bianca Blakesley, the group strives to raise awareness about bias at Tufts.
“Our goal is to get the word out about bias incidents and raise awareness that they do happen, and if you feel like something is targeting you as a member of a social identity, you have ways to report it and you have agency in that,” she said. “Also we need to get that dialogue going with students who aren’t that engaged with those issues, just to promote an environment not just of tolerance, but of inclusion.”
Another focus of the group is to bring together students who have experienced the various forms of bias at Tufts and those who have not.
“The reason that I do SPEAC and I really like SPEAC is that Tufts is an open−minded and accepting campus...for the majority of people, but it’s not for everyone,” SPEAC co−coordinator Bryn Clark, a junior, said. “Having events that bring together those two groups, to really try and get different people at our events, is one of our biggest missions.”
Blakesley said that SPEAC’s association with the administration provides legitimacy, but its identity as a student group offers access to student dialogue.
“Whereas the administration definitely takes on a different role in disciplinary actions, we want to have conversations with everybody, we’re not going to attack anyone for their views or perspectives,” she said. “We want to educate our peers and also find out what the general campus climate is.”
However, both Blakesley and Clark see their role in SPEAC as complimenting the administration’s aims in the reporting and publicizing bias incidents within the community.
“I think that if nothing happened, if there wasn’t some adult or administrator you could go to validate that experience and make it public, then you would see a lot less people speaking up about these things, people internalizing them and it having a more negative affect on their life,” Clark said. “The administration’s job is dealing with things individually and SPEAC’s job is learning from that and then trying to translate that into a larger atmosphere on campus.”
Until last year, SPEAC was known as the Bias Education and Awareness Team, or BEATBias, whose programming responded directly to each bias incident.
According to Clark, BEATBias became SPEAC in order to widen its scope and more proactively improve tolerance and understanding at Tufts.
SPEAC’s past programming has included the Tufts Identity Project, a display of photos of students with their answers to how they feel most people see them, and who they really are. This year, SPEAC will publish a booklet containing the answers to a broad survey of Tufts students concerning social identity.
According to Blakesley, 700 students were interviewed on topics like their sense of belonging on campus, interracial interactions and hookup culture.
SPEAC is also putting together a documentary film with interviews of students about the levels of tolerance or bias at Tufts.
Despite the different efforts of the administration and of SPEAC to combat bias at Tufts, bias persists and manifests itself in different forms.
“I think there’s a lot of different discourse on this campus about Tufts being oversensitive, and it’s made fun of in a very patronizing way,” Clark said. “I think that is a huge problem because it stifles this campus from talking about those issues in an actually constructive way.”
In particular, humor and consequent reactions contribute to the endurance of stereotypes and bias.
“People often use humor as a way to say joking about this is okay, but humor can also be a silencing mechanism,” said Blakesley. “We’re not talking about the issues, we’re normalizing disrespectful language, language that’s harmful and demeaning to certain social groups.”
Blakesley says that bias is everywhere, despite Tufts’ general reputation of being an accepting and open community.
“I think Tufts students are very well−intentioned. I think the school politically is very liberal,” she said. “But bias comes in many forms, and it comes implicitly and explicitly, and none of us whatsoever are free from bias.”