SU reports, responds to bias incidents
SU reports, responds to bias incidentsMarch 25, 2004Cynthia J. Moritzcjmoritz@syr.edu
While 81 bias-related incidents were reported at Syracuse University in the Fall 2003 semester, only one of them rose to the level of a hate crime, reports Syracuse University’s Team Against Bias. That incident involved the off-campus physical assault of a non-student perceived by the assailant to be gay.
“Bias-related incidents usually consist of inappropriate behaviors that are not sensitive to a diverse community,” says Juanita Perez Williams, the University’s director of judicial affairs. “Fortunately, our Office of Residence Life staff members, who oversee residential living for 7,200 University students, possess the necessary skills to report bias-related incidents to the Department of Public Safety and appropriately support the victims.” Williams says that SU policy defines bias-related incidents and hate crimes as directed by federal law.
The most widely known recent bias incidents are the “blackface” incidents, in which a white student has darkened his or her skin to appear to be African American. Blackface incidents occur at a relatively low rate; one was reported in October 2003 and another in February 2004. According to ORL data, the vast majority of incidents last fall, 65, involved written slurs on residence-hall room message boards. Fifty-one percent of bias-related incidents reported last fall had to do with sexual orientation, while 27 percent concerned gender, 15 percent concerned race and ethnicity, 4 percent concerned religion, 2 percent concerned race/ethnicity and sexual orientation, and 1 percent concerned national origin and race/ethnicity.
While the perpetrators in the “blackface” incidents were known, that is not generally the case. In cases where the perpetrator has been identified, University reaction sometimes takes a disciplinary path and sometimes a solely educational one, depending on the severity of the incident.
“I want people to know that the University will deal sternly with conduct that goes beyond the bounds of protected speech and interferes with the rights of others,” says Dean of Students Anastasia Urtz.
Urtz says that statistics so far in the spring semester indicate that the number of bias-related incidents may be decreasing. “I think this is in part a result of the residentadvisors and other professional staff in the Office of Residence Life and the Team Against Bias sitting down with students and discussing with them the questions, ‘Is this how we want to relate to each other? Is this the type of community we want to have?'”
According to Williams, the Dean of Students Office began collecting data regarding bias-related incidents two years ago following the implementation of the Division of Student Affairs Protocol for Responding to Bias-Related Incidents. As the reporting process developed, the office found that bias-related incidents appeared to be occurring more than anticipated. “We believe we received more reports in the fall due to a high number of cases originating in the first-year student residence halls. As these students became more acclimated to our community and its values, their conduct matured,” Williams says.
The process for responding to bias-related incidents includes a series of steps that move from attending to any medical needs, to reporting the incident to the Department of Public Safety, documenting the occurrence as a bias-related incident, counseling the victim and investigating the incident. The Team Against Bias functions as a trained crisis response team during events that escalate to a larger scale, holding open forums and encouraging group dialogue to express concerns and suggestions. It includes representatives of the unit handling the crisis and other trained staff members, along with trained students and, if they desire, the directly affected students.