Newly hired Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Sean Huddleston recently announced the finalization of a new Bias Protocol and Response Team as part of his objective of “inclusive excellence” for the school.
In an email to the student body sent Wednesday, Jan. 21, Huddleston described the Bias Protocol and Response Team’s goal of organizing the process through which incidents of bias are reported and investigated.
This comes after a series of incidents in recent months involving racially charged graffiti, which, Huddleston said in his email, “cannot be tolerated on our campus.” The most recent of these incidents occurred the day before the email was sent out, according to Huddleston.
Throughout last semester, a racial slur, along with an inappropriate image, was written on a Hispanic Heritage Month information board in Towers, a swastika was carved into a door in Horace Mann, a crossword puzzle on a club poster was filled in with a homophobic slur and a student desk worker was allegedly called a racial epithet by a parent with the student later being told that the security cameras that record the activities were not functioning.
Ultimately, these incidents inspired a protest by up to 40 students on Dec. 15 in order to call for a better administrative response.
“It’s ridiculous that it’s 2015 and this is happening,” said sophomore Becca Green about these incidents. “It’s important that these acts don’t go unmonitored.”
Regarding this most recent incident, Huddleston said “communication and action happened quickly” once it was reported. He said that the alleged perpetrators have been questioned and are going through the student conduct process.
“This incident would definitely fall under the category of a bias incident,” he said. “The investigation will determine if it rises to the level of a hate crime.”
Huddleston explained in an email that “a hate or bias incident occurs when an action made by an individual or group is perceived to be malicious (hate) or discriminatory (bias) toward another individual or group based on actual or perceived characteristics.”
All hate crimes, Huddleston said, are considered bias incidents, but not all bias incidents rise to the level of a hate crime.
Huddleston said it is difficult for him to assess whether FSU experiences a disproportionately high number of bias or hate incidents due to the lack of data released by schools on the topic. Additionally, bias incidents, like sexual assaults, are general under-reported, making the issue difficult to quantify and address effectively.
“We are fortunate at FSU to have started the process of developing a protocol for reporting these incidents so that we have good data for creating solutions and initiatives to proactively address these issues,” Huddleston said.
Huddleston described the significance of the Bias Protocol and Response Team as “three-fold.”
“First,” he said, “the formation of this team provides the university with a comprehensive method for addressing incidents of bias that fall below the status of hate crime, in an effort to continue to create a safe and welcoming environment for all.
“Second,” Huddleston said, “as we collect data related to bias incidents, we will be able to see trends and develop proactive strategies to reduce the number of bias incidents.”
The third aspect is to “review and align” the current bias reporting system in order to “create potential efficiencies,” Huddleston said.
Huddleston said the team aims to allow for effective reporting of incidents specific to victims and bystanders alike. He suggested the possibility of an electronic anonymous reporting mechanism for the future.
The current members of the Bias Protocol and Response Team include Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Multicultural Affairs David Baldwin, Chief of Staff and General Counsel Rita Colucci, Director of the Multicultural Center Kathy Martinez, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life/Student Conduct Glenn Cochran, Director of EEO, Title IX and ADA Compliance Kim Dexter, Sociology Professor Xavier Guadalupe Diaz and Student Representative Benni Arias Gonzalez.
Huddleston said that they may add more members to this “core group” or seek additional help from “informational or task-oriented resources” who will work with the team outside of the core group.
Baldwin said that after last semester’s bias incidents, he and Martinez began to formulate the idea for the team.
He said the team was formed “to create a campus-wide protocol for handling bias-related incidents and what the campus response will be. The team is comprised from a cross-section of campus that includes student, faculty and staff representation, who have an interest in this area or whose job would be impacted by this.”
He added that the team “will further show the campus’ commitment to diversity and inclusion,” and promised that “acts that hinder this commitment will not be tolerated and have consequences. In the end, it will make for a more inclusive community.”
Cochran said there will be no policy changes in conduct codes for students or the judicial process, and the mechanisms of reporting incidents will not necessarily replace the current ones, but add a new channel specifically for reports with an element of bias.
“I really see this as an additional layer that will help us engage and mobilize community members and community resources,” he said. “When you’re adding attention and resources in a coordinated effort, it’s going to have a positive impact to reduce bias incidents.”
President F. Javier Cevallos said that the point of the team is to “ensure we treat every situation that has a potential bias component the same way. It is part of our diversity agenda, as it will ensure we are fair to everyone. … A clear protocol will help us treat every event in the same way.”
Kimberly Awiszio, a senior and president of Pride Alliance, said that the creation of the team is “a step in the right direction.
“It’s a good concept,” she said, but added that there is much more that needs to be done in order to achieve inclusive excellence.
Junior Kara Reardon called the team “useful.
“They’re standing up for people’s rights,” she said.
Junior Sara Sullivan said that the team “might help minimize these crimes, because the victims’ voices will be heard.”
Junior Marissa Miele expressed hopes that the team will “defer people from doing these kinds of hateful acts.”
Junior Meredith Gralenski said that having the team “definitely helps,” but added, “We need more too. We need to educate people more to prevent it from getting to that point.”
Cochran encouraged participation in the Multicultural Center’s open forum on bias incidents taking place Tuesday, Feb. 24 at 4:30, saying, “We want community input on the protocols. … Prevention is a community-wide effort.”