The Bias Response Team, Center for Campus Involvement and the Expect Respect community gathered Thursday afternoon in the Michigan League to discuss the impact of bias incidents on the University of Michigan campus, and effective responses that students and administration can take after bias incidents occur.
According to BRT, the term “bias incident” refers to any conduct that discriminates, excludes or harasses anyone based on an identity. Currently, students can report bias incidents anonymously online and by phone.
Many students who attended the event specifically mentioned the recent incident in which University student, Lauren Fokken, an LSA sophomore, posted a Snapchat in a black face mask, and captioned it “#blacklivesmatter.”
LSA senior Jordan Jackson, Fokken’s co-worker at Victors cafe in Mosher-Jordan Residence Hall, reported Fokken to supervisors at Victors cafe, University Housing and the Dean of Students Office’s BRT.
The University’s Twitter account posted an informational flyer outlining the process of reporting bias incidents in response to these reports.
The event began with two representatives from Counseling and Psychological Services, who provided information about CAPS availability to all students, and the importance of utilizing these mental health resources in any situation in which a student feels necessary.
Brooke Harris, a BRT coordinator, first distinguished bias incidents from hate crimes. Harris outlined how the Division of Public Safety and Security and the Ann Arbor Police Department act as proper authorities in handling hate crimes, which pose a direct physical threat. In contrast, bias incidents more loosely include any conduct that discriminates against anyone based on identity without immediate danger. These occurrences are handled by BRT.
Harris used the incident in which racial slurs were written on the West Quad Residence Hall rooms of LSA sophomore Travon Stearns and other students last fall as an example of an occurrence handled by the BRT.
Evelyn Galvan, a BRT coordinator, explained the logistical case management of bias incidents and the hands-on role of the team to help students feel that they are part of a supportive community on campus. Galvan highlighted the team’s goal to talk to the offender in order to facilitate an educational conversation, while also striving to restore harm holistically in the campus community, rather than solely with the individuals involved in that incident.
Response plans to bias incidents are implemented based on a meeting between a team member, the reporter of the incident and the impacted persons. Additionally, to ensure transparency, the bias response team updates a weekly log of incidents and response actions.
“We want U-M to be a place for students to grow and thrive where they are,” Galvan said.
Later, Thomas Dickens, manager for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan program, highlighted CAPS and bias incident data, citing the fact that 39.5 percent of the 4,446 student CAPS requests were submitted by students of color in relation to bias incidents. He explained how students have an expressed need to have a safe space to learn without being targeted for having visible characteristics.
Dickens and the other facilitators emphasized the importance of detailing explicit information regarding these incidents, when students are comfortable, in order to effectively handle specific incidents and campus-wide overarching problems.
“Any and all reports are very important, if we start to notice that there is a trend, a significant amount of reports from a certain class, dorm or student organization, that gives us indication that we need to reach out there,” Dickens said.
LSA junior Kayla McKinney, secretary of the Black Student Union, said she came to the event to spread the information about reporting bias incidents to students in her community. McKinney cited the recent incident as an opportunity to encourage more reporting of bias incidents.
“We felt like it was important to send representatives here, so that way we can take this information, and provide it back to the community, especially after the Snapchat incident,” she said. “People want to know how bias reporting works, what happens after. I’m the secretary, so it’s my job to form things like newsletters, so I can send an email about all the information I learned here today.”