The evolution of the Bias Incident Policy

Madeline Diamond and Melissa Rios, News Editor and Staff Writer

“Since I’ve arrived, we’ve … had some sort of bias policy,” Bill McCoy, Director of the Office of LGBT Awareness, said, referring to the University’s old Bias Harassment Policy. “The problem with that policy is that the bias had to meet the threshold of harassment. If one person did one problematic thing to a target, it wouldn’t meet the policy.”

McCoy brought this up with Dean of Students Susan Lantz and then Associate Dean of Students for Diversity Thomas Alexander and got permission to pull together a committee to rewrite the policy. “The new policy had to provide resources and support the victim that felt affected by the bias. [The victims] needed to feel that the institution had the resources they needed. The long-term goal is to use the data to find the commonalities,” McCoy said.  

The committee members went on to research various policies from peer institutions, identify the gaps, make the policy less punitive, and figure out what they liked and didn’t like. McCoy and Associate Provost for Diversity Bridget Newell wrote the policy as it exists now. The policy was then rolled out to the Dean of Students and the Committee on Campus and Student Life (CCSL). The policy was to launch with the new Student Code of Conduct but McCoy expressed that there were unforeseeable challenges because of the difficulty to navigate Title IX and the threshold of gender bias.

The current policy can be submitted by the target or a witness. If a witness reports the bias incident, that witness is contacted to see how comfortable the target would be with contact. When the perpetrator is unknown, the University will ask consent of the target to proceed with an investigation. In some cases, in which the perpetrator is known, the University will negotiate with the target in proceeding with an investigation.

The target can go through with one of three options as described by McCoy. A target can choose to do nothing and just have the bias incident recorded for statistics; the target can choose the Student Code of Conduct Process and have an administrative hearing or a committee board hearing; and lastly, the target can choose the Restorative Mediation Process, in which the perpetrator is contacted and both parties are informed of the layout of mediation. The parties can negotiate the process and a trained mediator will facilitate dialogue between them. 

“This year was meant to be a learning year after our soft launch, but then the radio incident happened. There have been more than six reports this semester. Two additional incidents came through other means and one incident that occurred last semester, was reported this semester. It can be really important for both parties to hear the impact of the incident to both the target and the perpetrator,” McCoy said. “But one of the barriers of this process is that the perpetrator has to take ownership.”

The fall 2014 Bias Incident Report is accessible online on the Bias Incident Policy webpage and it details the number of incidents that the University dealt with during last semester. According to the report, five incidents were reported during the fall 2014 semester. While some incidents included multiple factors, three involved racial bias, two involved gender bias, and two involved bias based on sexuality.

In terms of resolution, four of the five incidents resulted in “no action,” which means that the target chose to not go through with either the Student Code of Conduct Process nor the Restorative Mediation Process.

“Very few targets go through with an investigation; again, it’s their right. We want to empower them through them having their own agency,” McCoy said.

The fifth report resulted in “N/A” because there was not enough information to move on with an investigation. There are multiple ways for one to report an incident: informally contacting A.P. Newell or McCoy, submitting a report through the online form, or contacting Public Safety or a Residential Adviser.

Over the summer, additional faculty and staff will be trained. There are no statutes of limitations to submit a bias incident report.

“It can seem like the University is not doing anything about bias, but the primary concern is to support the target … The situation has to be reconciled in [his or her] mind,” McCoy said.

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