Bias incidents spark campus dialogues

On Tuesday, Nov. 19, Dean of the College Chris Roelke sent out a campus-wide email releasing the news that two students have been found responsible for several recent bias incidents. In response to the recent news, Roellke and President Catharine Hill wrote in an emailed statement, “The outcome involving the two students doesn’t change the nature of the dialogue about bias incidents. All of our students and employees have a right to study, live and work in an environment free from damaging and hateful expressions, and as a community we have to continue to be vigilant on these issues.”

This news came after another campus email sent out five days ago by Associate Dean of the College for Campus Life and Diversity Ed Pittman which detailed the frequency and nature of some the bias incidents. The earlier email also explained the purpose and operations of the Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT) of which Pittman is the coordinator. In his email, Pittman listed explained the problems associated with these incidents. He wrote, “These and other offensive, hurtful messages have targeted individuals and groups based on gender identity or expression, race, sexual orientation, religious belief or identity, veteran status, national origin and other forms of identity.”

He continued, “This is unacceptable and members of our community should be able to learn and work in environments that are free of hurtful expressions and behaviors.”

Main House President Reuben Moncada ’15 had to deal with one such bias incident, which was reported in the multi-purpose room of Main. In response, Main House organized an event in an effort to reject attacks of this sort. As Moncada explained in an emailed statement, “Because of the bias incident that has happened in our MPR a couple of weeks ago, Main House Team responded by having a house discussion response titled ‘Whose House,’ which was planned by Maddie McCarthy ’16, Michaela Regehr ’16, and Kevin Newhall ’17.”

Strong House has also had to deal with a number of bias incidents this semester. President of the Strong House Carolina Gustafson ’15 spoke to the way in which the house was able to fight back against these sorts of targeted incidents and personal attacks. “Following a series of bias incidents targeted against Strong using gendered language, Strong had a mandatory all house meeting,” she said.

She continued, “We used this meeting to talk about the effects of the bias incidents on Strong residents and on the community as a whole, what it means to live in Strong, why the use of gendered language and gendered slurs in particular hurt our house as an all-female identified community, and about the responses we want to see and implement in the future.”

Of the effort Main made to counter the bias incident that took place in that house, Moncada said,  “Several upperclassmen that I spoke to thought that our response/discussion was very engaging and encouraged the members of the house to think critically about these bias incidents.”

Going further, he wrote, “I want students to know that Main House strives to foster a community that celebrates diversity. Some have said that our response to the incident was unnecessary, when in fact it was 100 [percent] necessary. By responding in the manner that we did, we send the message that racism in any shape or form is not something we tolerate—especially not in our House.” In his email, Roelke explained the damage these bias incidents due to the college community in general and  he credited BIRT for the discovery of the two students.

According to Pittman’s email, six bias incidents were reported over the course of the last three months. Gustafson spoke to the increase of bias incidents. She said, “It is incredibly disappointing that we have already this year received multiple bias incidents, all directed at Strong and female-identified people.” She went on, “I think the very quick and strong response we had to these bias incidents really shows the high level of dorm pride and resilience that reside in the Strong community.”

Roelke’s email concluded, “The outcome of this most recent investigation in no way diminishes our commitment to working toward a more just, diverse, egalitarian, and inclusive campus community. We are dedicated to these principles, and ask for your support and engagement in this work.”

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