Sean Huddleston, chief officer of diversity, inclusion and community engagement, said the year-old bias incident report system shines a light on occurrences that do not reach the level of a hate crime.
Of the 11 reports submitted last year, seven were about race or ethnicity, one about sexual orientation, one about national origin and two about gender identity. According to Huddleston, five were reported in the fall 2015 semester and six were reported in the spring 2016 semester.
The Bias Incidents Report Team (B.I.R.T.) was created last year as a method for addressing incidents of bias that are not categorized as a hate crime, and is “an effort to continue to create a safe and welcoming environment for all,” according to the Inclusive Excellence website.
“Quite honestly, we hope the bias incident reporting process helps people think about behaviors or statements that could be offensive to other people. … We still are collecting the data, and we’ll be able to determine how effective the process is,” said Huddleston.
He added although the number of reports met his expectations “in a couple of respects,” there is no way to tell whether the number of reports filed was normal compared to other institutions because a lot of them do not publicize that information.
B.I.R.T. made “a very conscious effort to make sure we were extremely transparent,” Huddleston said.
The team includes Huddleston, three to four students, David Baldwin, associate dean of students, Kim Dexter, director of equal opportunity, Title IX and ADA compliance, Rita Colucci, chief of staff and general counsel, Glenn Cochran, associate dean of students and director of Residence Life, an FSUPD police officer and Xavier Guadalupe-Diaz, assistant professor of sociology.
In an email Dexter said she has seen “improved dialogue and understanding” in the FSU community since the team’s implementation.
She added, “My hope is that the reporting and review process will continue to promote discussion around the intersections of protected speech, engaged citizenship, pro-social bystander intervention and the impact of our words and actions.”
To file a report, there is a form available on the Inclusive Excellence website. However, Huddleston said anyone can call him, report to Residence Life, Dean of Students Melinda Stoops or “anywhere” on campus.
The form, he said, is a way to get more information about the incident and to collect data to monitor trends related to bias incidents.
When a bias incident is reported, Huddleston said he reaches out to the person who filed the report within 24 hours or less, and then the team looks into whether the incident is something that could break the law and needs to be investigated by campus police or Stoops.
Once the situation is resolved and the team has met with both parties involved, the person who reported the incident is given the option of whether they would like the campus community to be notified, adding the team checks in during and after the process to make sure the incident has been resolved.
“When the process first started and we were still trying to figure it out, we had a couple of stumbles. … We had a couple of bias incidents reported and we didn’t get the notification out very timely,” Huddleston said.
He added, “We learned from that, and that helped us refine the process a little bit more.”
Those who have submitted reports “feel relieved” once it is resolved, but Huddleston believes not enough people know about the bias incident process and B.I.R.T.
Going forward, Huddleston said he hopes the team can learn from the types of reports filed and know what programs would benefit the campus.
Jackson Stevens, a junior, was a student on B.I.R.T. last year and plans to be a member of the team again. He said “it was a slow year” in terms of spreading word about the system, and he hopes to have more students involved with the team.
He added the reports allow those who file them an opportunity to “heal. No matter how major or minor the incident, the first step is always the hardest. I feel me being part of the team helps the victims, communities potentially affected, and the FSU community to heal.”
Huddleston said he encourages dialogue on bias incidents because one of the reason hate and incidents can proliferate is because “a light doesn’t get shined on it.”
He added the reporting process is “not meant to be punitive,” but to be educational and encourage people to see differently.
“Obviously, I would love for us to have an environment where we had zero bias incidents, but by the same token, there’s also the opportunity for us to really get into civil discourse and really have conversations across difference that really help people learn and to grow,” Huddleston said.