The Collegian
Saturday, January 28, 2023

UR increases transparency of bias reporting process

<p>Tyler Haynes Commons overlooking Westhampton Lake.&nbsp;</p>

Tyler Haynes Commons overlooking Westhampton Lake. 

The University of Richmond Office for Equity and Community added a faculty member to the Bias Resource Team and updated information about its bias incident reporting process on the bias reporting and resources website.

The updated bias reporting webpage has a link to the bias incident reporting form, along with FAQs, a flow chart of the bias reporting and response process and additional resources for reporting concerns. 

The updates included a BRT fact sheet, which is available in offices on campus according to an email obtained by the Collegian and sent to UR community members by Amy Howard, senior administrative officer for equity and community, on Jan. 9.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic halted progress, there was a plan to clarify information about the bias response process, Glyn Hughes, BRT chair and director of institutional equity and inclusion, said. The plan also included increasing outreach to community members and student organizations.

During the fall 2022 semester, conversations with student organizations and student leaders about their perspectives on the gaps in the bias reporting process pushed the plan further, Hughes said.

“We had already been looking at, and thinking, ‘how can we improve this?’” Hughes said. “So there was already an idea there, but then issues on campus kind of raise the energy level and the attention of the campus around those issues.”

The BRT consists of 18 members from different departments across campus and was created approximately 15 years ago, Hughes said.

Marcella Torres, director of mathematical studies, was the faculty member added to the BRT.

A new perspective will benefit the team, and faculty senate representation will also provide a person who the faculty can easily go to for questions about the BRT, Hughes said.

Sophomore Sanjna Kaul used the bias incident reporting form in October of 2022 to report racist Halloween costumes she saw in the dining hall, she said. 

When Kaul communicated with members of the BRT in the fall 2022 semester, she got the impression that they were aware of what students, specifically students of color, wanted, she said.

At the time of the incident, Kaul felt frustration while waiting for a response, not knowing what to expect from the BRT because she was unaware of what the team’s capabilities were, she said. 

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Reading through centralized information on the BRT would have helped them know what to expect, Kaul said. She sees the updates as positive progress for our community. 

The flowchart about what happens when a bias incident reporting form is submitted online is helpful, Kaul said.

Moving forward, Kaul believes improvement could come from seeing examples of what community caretaking has looked like in the past and what it could look like in the future, she said.

Sophomore Ashley Wilson also used the bias incident reporting form in October. The form was easy to fill out, especially with the help of her friend who is a resident assistant, Wilson said. 

Wilson felt as if she and the other people who reported the incident were yelling into a void, she said. More than the BRT itself, Wilson felt that the UR administration was not taking the bias incident reports as seriously as she wished.

“What’s the point of the bias reporting system if the administration doesn’t take it seriously, our president or vice presidents didn’t even get to speak explicitly on what happened and denounce things that obviously should not be happening on our campus?” she said.

The updates to the website were helpful in gaining an idea of where the report goes after submitted, Wilson said. 

Her biggest frustration was over the bias not being denounced by those in positions of power, and that there were no actions taken against the people who caused the bias incidents, she said. 

After the bias incident involving racist Halloween costumes in October, Steve Bisese, vice president for student development, wrote in an email to the campus community to be mindful of what costume to wear during Halloween and to not wear costumes narrowing a culture to a stereotype.

Jeffrey Legro, executive vice president and provost, emailed faculty and members of the UR community following the incidents as well, stating that several incidents had been brought to the attention of the administration and that they were working to better understand the facts of these situations and the impact on members of the community.

Wilson has spoken to fellow students who have considered transferring and some who have transferred because they do not feel safe on a campus that does not take bias seriously and where nobody gets in trouble for the incidents, she said.

Wilson said she wishes that more serious action was taken against perpetrators of the bias incidents. 

“It doesn’t have to be expelling them or anything, but it has to be something that is substantial,” Wilson said. “Something that lets people know you shouldn’t be doing things like this.”

The Office for Institutional Equity and Inclusion is starting an internal review of the bias incident reporting processes and the BRT, Howard wrote in the email. 

The review now focuses on finding ways to improve the existing process, Hughes said.

“It's trying to kind of look at the full range of from, what's the reporting process, to how do we organize our response and resources?” Hughes said.

Because of the increased communication and clarity, Kaul said she is optimistic that in the future, when bias incidents happen, there may be a way for students, administration and staff to work through them in a better way.

“The main thing is the changes are good,” Wilson said. “They're good changes to see, but in reality, we need more substantial change.” 

Contact copy chief Jenna Lapp at jenna.lapp@richmond.edu

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