Campus reacts to bias report system

bias

Photo courtesy of reportbias.wfu.edu

This school year the university launched a new online system to report acts of bias on campus. Senior administrators, the Division of Campus Life and the Office of Diversity & Inclusion developed the Bias Incident Response Team, which in turn developed and implemented the online Bias Incident Response System.

The system allows students, faculty and staff to report any bias-related incidents that they have witnessed or experienced. The administration hopes that this online reporting process will streamline the process for reporting acts of bias on campus and create a better protocol for dealing with acts of bias.

“What I like about the Bias Incident Response System is that it adds protocol to our response. This is something that we have already been doing,” said Adam Goldstein, dean of Students and associate vice president for Campus Life. “But now because of the protocol, we’re better able to track and see what’s happening in the lives of our students.”

According to the Bias Incident Report Form, once a report is filed it is immediately sent to University Police for assessment of “immediate damage” to ensure the safety of both individuals and property. The officer will then assess if immediate attention is needed.

Additionally, when a report is filed the Bias-Incident Response Team will also receive the report to assess what alleys of support are available to the victim.

On Sept. 4, Yahoo News, picked up an article from the online news publication, The Daily Caller, titled “ University Squelches Freedom Of Speech With Campus-Wide Discrimination Initiative.” This article inspired spin-off articles on several other right-leaning online publications, all of which cited the new system as an infringement of an individual’s First Amendment rights.

“I don’t see [the online reporting system] as a threat to free speech,” Goldstein said. “This is something that we’ve been doing in higher-ed and that Wake Forest has been doing for many years. We’ve just added a system of protocol to help us provide care better and to help us minimize the likelihood of future harm.”

Barbee Oakes, the assistant provost for diversity and inclusion, also believes that the new bias reporting system does not infringe on anyone’s First Amendment rights.

“This is not about diversity and inclusion or campus life trying to suppress the rights of individuals,” Oakes said. “This is about protecting the people and supporting the people who are part of our community and protecting our university.

The online reporting system has been critiqued by members of the student body for a reason outside the realm of the First Amendment — the potential for frivolous, anonymous reports.

The instruction section of the online form states that those filing a report “should provide either a phone number or an e-mail address” so that they can be contacted for questions or with concerns. However, no email address or phone number is required to submit a report. The only entries on the form that are required for it to be submitted are the “date of incident,” “location of incident, the “individuals/groups involved” and a description of the incident.

“We discourage anonymous reports because the more complete information we have, the better able we are to provide care,” Goldstein said. “When individuals go on the record what they’re doing is demonstrating that they want the university to have all the information they possibly can to respond to the harm. If someone’s leaving their name, we can follow up and ask information that they might not have thought important when making the report.”

Some students feel that simply discouraging anonymous reports is not enough. The fact that forms can be filed with complete anonymity has some students concerned that the system will be abused.

“I feel like people will start to file silly things, like on Yik Yak,” said senior Rachel Yang.

Oakes is concerned about the potential for the filing of frivolous reports. “After [The Daily Caller] article came out there were a number of emails that came in, usually from outside email addresses that just had ludicrous information in them,” Oakes said. “We’ll keep a record of everything that comes in, but a decision on whether a team is formed to address it depends on being able to identify who may have been impacted.”

Yang is also concerned that students will not be motivated to file a report unless the experience a severe incident. “I feel like [the online reporting system] may be helpful but at the same time, unless [the incident] is really severe, a lot of people may blow it off,” she said.

But for junior Brittany Salaam, the system has already been helpful. Salaam filed a bias report on the new system to report a party, which she believes had an offensive theme. She felt that the administration acted swiftly to help resolve the situation.

“I think that they responded quickly, which is kind of the point of the bias reports,” Salaam said. “Though, I’m not sure if was the actual bias report itself or myself and many other student who did it because I also contacted a specific person in the administration. So I don’t know whether it was the bias reports or that person that responded so quickly to the event that was planned to be held but I do think the bias report had something to do with it.”

Salaam also sent out an email to fellow students, which encouraged them to also file bias reports if they shared her sentiments regarding the controversial theme party. Typically the names of those who file a bias report will be kept completely anonymous, but the email linked Salaam’s name to the report, which many students unfairly blamed as the cause for the party’s cancellation.

These students then took to the anonymous messaging app Yik Yak to air their anger. Many of the messages, some of which were racially-toned, specifically targeted Salaam.

Because of the confidential nature of bias reports, Salaam blames the email she wrote. She is fearful that the backlash on Yik Yak may prevent other students from filing reports.

“[It is a fear of mine] is a fear of mine for the student body,” Salaam said. “Now people won’t want to speak up about things that they see and that they hear because they’re afraid what happened to me will happen to them.”

But Salaam believes that once more students know about the new system, it could end up improving the campus culture. “I think that if students knew more about [the reports], it would benefit us,” she said. “I think the system itself is a good thing.”

Freshman Nilu Vyas has not heard much about the new system, but she is hopeful that if it is used responsibly to benefit the student body. “I hope that if people need to use it that they actually take it seriously,” Vyas said.

Editor’s Note: Bias Reports are an addition to campus that have been greeted with a mixed response. We felt that one article could not encapsulate the totality of this new system, thus, the editorial decision was made to run a two-part series on the system. Next week’s edition of the series will focus on what happens to people who have reports filed against them, the workings of the Bias Incident Response Team and how the new system will take root and evolve at Wake Forest.

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Copyright 2017