Bias Education and Response Team Community Statement
Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, American colleges and universities were primarily accessible to white males from middle to upper-income households. Since then, colleges and universities have made notable progress increasing access to higher education for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, racially underrepresented groups, students with disabilities, and women. This shift did not come about organically; it was the result of vigilant and tireless advocacy, and this struggle continues. Social vulnerability and discrimination are at the root of these struggles and continue to impact the discourse on who has access to college, and who will thrive in such environments.
With increased diversity comes increased risks of intolerance and prejudiced behaviors. Dickinson is a social microcosm and, as such, we must acknowledge how racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, classism and other types of discrimination directly affect our community. We have many students who embrace the College’s ideals and strive to make it an inclusive, multicultural community. And many students’ overall experience here is a positive one. But we also have students across a spectrum of identities who experience Dickinson fearfully; as a place where bias, harassment and intimidation regularly challenge their ability to learn and flourish socially. It is our responsibility and moral imperative to recognize, validate, and respond to these behaviors with care and concern.
As Dickinson has expanded and refined its self-understanding of who a Dickinson student is, the College has also been compelled to address how social vulnerabilities may inform the lived experiences of its students. The Bias Education and Response Team was formed through the conscious effort of faculty and staff to understand the lived experiences of many members of the student community, to promote an environment of heathy dialogue and inclusion, and to have a system in place for addressing reports of discriminatory macro- and micro- aggressions that violate our community standards. The BERT was not created to actively monitor the speech of Dickinsonians, nor does it seek to do so.
The Bias Education and Response Team continues to exist to educate Dickinsonians about ways to create an inclusive community, and if bias incidents are reported, the BERT is responsible for addressing students’ concerns sensitively and productively. Comprised of representatives from the faculty, the student body, and an array of administrative departments, the Bias Education and Response Team has always operated ethically and responsibly, and in adherence with Dickinson’s mission and philosophy. Dickinson’s response protocols are comparable to the laudable protocols of our peer institutions, and response interventions have consistently resulted in impactful educational outcomes and planted seeds for greater sensitivity and awareness.
As the 2016 PEN America Principles on Campus Free Speech asserts, “To be truly open to students of all backgrounds, orientations, lifestyles, viewpoints, and persuasions, the university must be cognizant of the factors that impair the ability of particular students and groups to participate fully and freely in campus life… and to take concrete steps to clear those obstructions.”1 Any effort to dismiss the validity of the incident reports that the Team has responded to risks minimizing and invalidating the authentic experiences our students have reported. We cannot be surprised that bias is often underreported or not reported at all when students sense that their claims will not be acknowledged; or worse, that their legitimate concerns are discredited by a presumption that all speech aspires to being reasoned discourse or reflects our well-established community standards. The incidents that have resulted in reports of bias from students have not been merely disagreements or differing perspectives, but rather aggressive and hurtful behaviors that have caused distress, anxiety, and fear.
The Bias Education and Response Team is grounded in the belief that the central anchor that connects all members of the Dickinson community is a mutual investment in the development of our students. The Team therefore endeavors to equip Dickinsonians with the knowledge and tools to aptly address social and cultural divisions. The Team is energized by Dickinson’s commitment to creating an inclusive campus, achieved by engaging with our students, fostering value for their diverse experiences, and encouraging them to fulfill our community’s standards for respect though constructive dialogue and cross-cultural communications.
In concert with the Landis Collective, the Queer & Trans Advocacy Committee, Sustained Dialogue, the President’s Commission on Diversity, the President’s Commission on Women, Gender, and Sexuality, and other campus entities focused on community, diversity, access, and inclusion, the Bias Education and Response Team seeks to foster a positive learning environment for all members of the Dickinson community.
If you have any questions or comments, or would like more information about the Bias Education and Response Team, please contact us via any of the addresses posted on our webpage: www.dickinson.edu/bias.
The 2016 PEN America Principles on Campus Free Speech further contends that an institution “…must be willing to look hard at how physical barriers, historical traditions, inequalities, prejudices, and power dynamics can block openness and to take concrete steps to clear those obstructions.” The Team agrees with PEN America that “the dialogues, debates, and efforts at greater inclusion on many campuses have the potential to help rout out entrenched biases that have impeded the participation of members of marginalized groups,” and has embraced resolution methods like mediation and dialogue because they “can help unleash and amplify new voices that can enrich debates on campus and in wider society, expanding free speech for everyone’s benefit.”
Read the full PEN report:
“And campus for all: Diversity, inclusions, and free speech at U.S. universities”