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November 20

Bias Incident Group to create formal response to bias incidents

Group to more clearly define what a bias incident is

In response to recent bias incidents on campus and student disappointment in the lack of response, the College’s Bias Incident Group will create more formal systems for defining and responding to incidents of bias. 

“We have a very well-honed process for informing the campus and getting the process in gear [in response to sexual assaults] and it feels—and it is—a less well-oiled machine with respect to issues of bias,” said President Clayton Rose.

Rose pointed out that there are important differences between sexual assaults and bias incidents, but the College should have formal systems to respond to both.“So the Group concluded—and I agreed, wholeheartedly—that it would be a good thing to look at what we can do to enhance the process and the procedures and make it a better-oiled machine,” Rose said.

Discussion about bias incidents was sparked following multiple bias incidents in Brunswick over the summer and as recently as this month. October’s “gangster” party brought attention to the presence of on-campus bias incidents and debate over what a bias incident is.

Part of the Bias Incident’s Group work will be to more clearly define what a bias incident is, according to Christina Moreland ’17, one of the two student representatives on the Bias Incident Group. 

“I think the majority of students on this campus don’t know exactly what a bias incident is defined as,” Moreland said. “And I am still somewhat unclear on that... So I think really fine-tuning that and making it more specific is very important for a start.”

“You have to have a starting point for what are you going to put in the box and what stays outside of the box and so forth,” Rose said.

Both Rose and Moreland noted that the Group’s response to on-campus and off-campus bias incidents will have to be different.

“We likely will have—at least in some aspects of bias incidents—student conduct issues and we need to gather facts and can’t rush to judgment and can’t be seen as prejudicing a process. That doesn’t mean we can’t be faster and more systematic, we can,” Rose said.

Following the “gangster” party, many students shared previously unreported bias incidents, highlighting that fact that many more bias incidents occur than are formally reported to the Bias Incident Group. 

According to Moreland, encouraging more reporting is part of the work the Group needs to do. There is an online, anonymous reporting system, but Moreland said many students don’t know about it and it can be hard to find.

The Group has not yet begun to create the new policy, but the College already has similar policies that can serve as models.

 “I don’t know exactly what that strategic response or that systematic response will be,” said Moreland. “The idea is we need to have something because in other situations on campus, for example hazing, there is a response that the school will take. So if we can have that for hazing, why can’t we have it for a bias incident?”

“These things should be living policies, not static,” said Rose, who added that there will be opportunities for the Bowdoin community to provide input on the Group’s new policies. The Bias Incident Group was created in the 1980s and is comprised of Rose, Moreland, Elina Zhang ’16, James R. and Helen Lee Billingsley Professor of Marine Biology Amy Johnson, Assistant Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Carolyn Wolfenzon, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster, Associate Dean of Students for Diversity and Inclusion Leana Amaez, Director of Safety and Security Randy Nichols, Director of the Counseling Service and Wellness Programs Bernie Hershberger, Senior Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Scott Hood, Special Assistant to the President for Multicultural Affairs Roy Partridge and Director of the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity Kate Stern.

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