In response to the bias incidents that have taken place on the University of Michigan campus, the Dean of Students office is launching the Response, Education and Awareness Community Taskforce (REACT) with Respect initiative. The task force will work along the Expect Respect campaign, as well as the Bias Response Team, to create a more inclusive campus environment through workshops, peer support services and more. Students who sign up for the initiative can be trained in one of two areas: preventative planning or bias incident training, and will learn how to handle issues involving identity, bias, and social and restorative justice ideas.

Bias incidents have been steadily increasing on campus in the last two years. A new response log published last fall reported 80 incidents last semester alone. 

Julio Cardona, interim Assistant Dean of Students, currently manages the Bias Incident Prevention and Response team and the Expect Respect Campaign. Cardona further explained the development of REACT with Respect initiative, pointing out it was created at the request of members from the student body.

“It is a pilot program that was created in response to students last year expressing the desire to be more actively involved in preventing bias incidents on campus, and also finding ways that they can support the work of the Expect Respect campaign,” Cardona said. “This year we decided to pilot the program with a few students just to see how then in the future we can continue expanding it out.”

Cardona also discussed the goals of the initiative: offering students who have faced bias situations support and resources to report the incident, and implementing preventative measures in collaboration with the Expect Respect campaign.

“This is really almost like a student organization that is supporting and acting as an advising group,” he said. “(However it is) also providing peer support to students that may need to file a bias incident report with Student Life, but don’t know how to, or may feel that there is a sense of retaliation if they do … Also it’s helping to do more preventative events, so tabling, flyering, chalking the Diag to tell people about what we do, but then also programming around the Expect Respect campaign through doing workshops, and meeting with other students orgs to discuss all of our initiatives.”

REACT with Respect and the Expect Respect campaign are both parts of the Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Plan implemented by the University in 2016. Cardona highlighted the ways that REACT with Respect paralleled different aspects of the DEI both in regards to the campus-wide plan and the Student Life plan.

“This pilot program aligns directly to Strategy Two of the U-M campus-wide strategic plan, and that strategy is to, ‘Recruit, maintain and support a diverse community,’” Cardona said. “Then also specifically to Student Life’s DEI strategic plan of increasing the capacity of student life programs devoted to supporting student experiencing bias and improving campus climate.”

Cardona ended by explaining the importance of ensuring students’ voices are heard so the University can take action in areas that actually need it, not just ones presumed by the administration.

“We really want the students’ voice and their ideas represented in all of our work,” Cardona said. “If we need to update the Expect Respect webpage we’ll ensure that students thoughts and ideas are incorporated in it, so that way we address the current needs of students. Especially if we’re going to share resources that are about reporting a bias incident, we want to make sure that the type of resources we provide students are currently aligned to what they need, and not what we assume they need.”

The program is still in its beginning phase, and searching for student participants. Megan Zabik is an LSA sophomore considering joining REACT with Respect.

“It sounds really interesting to me because I think the University needs more initiative like that. I hope that it can help create a more understanding culture at the University of Michigan,” Zabik said. “The national culture isn’t very inclusive and I feel like it’s reflected at this University for sure, and it needs to change. The administration should have more initiatives like this, and I hope to support it with my involvement.”

LSA sophomore Mayah Wheeler shared Zabik’s sentiment and felt it was important for the University to have more individuals trained in handling bias incidents.

“I think it’s a good idea; given all the racial incidents you need more people than just the Diversity Peer Educators that are equipped to deal with this, but I also don’t think it necessarily solves the problem because reacting is not preventative, it’s reaction,” Wheeler said. “While it’s good to have these reaction programs because they’ll help people, the goal is to not need them in the first place.”

Wheeler, however, does not plan on joining the task force, but hopes that others will commit themselves to the cause.

“Personally I don’t plan on joining, just because I find that situations that deal with racism and different aspects of racism such as microaggressions are exhausting for me, but I definitely think that we need people that would like to help with that,” she said. 

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