Response log reports 80 bias incidents this semester

Sunday, December 10, 2017 - 10:04pm

The classroom, dorm rooms and hallways, or even in passing walking around campus: That’s where University of Michigan students are most likely to fall victim to a bias incident, according to a log of self-reported data collected by the University’s Bias Response Team. The team’s online log tracked 80 individual bias incidents since this September, with 16 additional prior events occurring over the summer.

Most cases in the log involve race, religion or national identity. Encompassed in the BRT’s scope are any instances in which a student is targeted for their identity, including but not limited to race, color, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, age or religion. At the close of a semester rocked by high-profile incidents of racism, the BRT records illustrate the majority of bias incidents are commonplace experiences that do not always make headlines. Most of the reports are attacks expressed verbally or in written form, either via email or graffiti.

“Regarding trends, there have been an increase in reported bias incidents that occur on-campus (vs off campus) since 2014,” University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen wrote in an email. “What you see reported is a testament to how much the community cares about reporting and supporting each other.”

Results from a campus climate sample survey administered last year found one in five students reported experiencing a discriminatory incident in the last year, with Black and Hispanic students 519 percent and 132 percent more likely to experience discrimination, respectively.

Out of 21 incidents occurring in residence halls, West Quad Residence Hall surpasses all other residence halls with four incidents in the last three months, followed by Bursley Residence Hall and then Mary Markley residence hall on the Hill. A Central Campus Diversity Peer Educator who requested to stay anonymous due to University Housing policies explained dorms might be commonly cited locations of bias incidents due to strict policies in Housing surrounding reporting. DPEs are student residential staff members serving as social justice educators and developers of each hall’s community identity. The current process of resolving bias incidents is fairly effective, the anonymous DPE suggested.

“Our purpose isn’t to convince a resident to think a certain way, be on a specific side, or make them do anything,” he said. “Our purpose is to have a dialogue with that resident and educate/help them understand the different sides. The students who commit the incidents are now more aware of their actions and understand the impact they make in their living spaces, and as a result no longer commit these incidents. In addition, the residents who are targeted know that they have a support system in their living spaces.”

Still, after Black residents in West Quad found racial slurs on their doors earlier this semester, many students of color at following protests asked if they were safe in their living spaces. LSA sophomore Travon Stearns was one of the students whose door was vandalized. In an earlier interview with The Daily, he lamented the lack of security he felt around campus.  

“Maybe people do those things as a joke but they don’t realize what psychologically impact that can have on a person,” he said. “Especially since I am at the University to study and get an education. But then I have to worry about the feeling of oppression and not being accepted. I have to watch my back at all times. And that just puts extra pressure on me on top of regular college life.”

Broekhuizen wrote University Housing offers an ongoing training program for student and professional staff on reporting and responding to incidents, as well as understanding “how a single incident can affect students in one community in diverse ways.”

“Prevention and mitigation of bias incidents begins with awareness,” she wrote. “It is key to have staff trained in how to defuse a situation where harm could take place, as well as on how to identify when a bias incident has occurred.”

The Central Campus DPE argues these incidents are on the minds of students involved, in when they are not in the headlines. 

“Over time, many residents have become numb to it even though the targeting is still occurring. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t affected by it or aren’t thinking about,” the DPE said. “The ‘feeling comfortable’ aspect of living in a residence hall fluctuates depending on what is occurring on campus.”

Fifteen of the incidents on the bias incident log involved University employees, and thus involved the Office for Institutional Equity, the campus office that handles discrimination and compliance.

Resolutions of bias incidents remain gap in the BRT, however. The team focuses on documentation and support of students, but not necessarily sanctioning perpetrators of identity-based attacks. These types of correctives fall under the domain of the Office of Student Conflict Resolution, the office charged with upholding the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities. The BRT, however, does not always refer students to OSCR or OIE.

Earlier this semester, E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, said she was not aware of one bias incident resolved through OSCR processes. This year Central Student Government President Anushka Sarkar, an LSA senior, is trying to remedy that by amending the Statement of Students Rights and Responsibilities to include explicit language banning bias incidents.

“There are gaps between the Bias Response Team and OSCR, and we need to make sure students know how to use the codes,” Harper said. “But sometimes they just don’t want to report.”

Jordyn Baker also contributed to reporting.