Fair Practices Committee explores bias reporting system during forum

By Erin Moyer || Senior Editor

On Tuesday, the Committee on Fair Practices hosted a forum about bias reporting. The forum, held in the Weis Great Room, explained the Committee’s current work in exploring whether or not the College should have a bias reporting system, and if so, what it should be like.

Douglas Anthony, associate professor of history and chair of the Committee on Fair Practices, mediated the forum. He began the discussion by explaining the Committee’s current work. As Anthony explained to those in attendance, the College does not have a formal system in place with which members of the campus community may report incidents of bias. The Office of the Provost had asked the Committee to survey the bias reportings systems of other colleges and make a recommendation based on their study. The questions the Committee was currently exploring, Anthony said, were the pros and cons of a bias reporting system and how one would be created.

Anthony then outlined the Committee’s process in preparing a recommendation for the Office of the Provost. Over Winter Break, the Committee assembled a group of 30 schools comparable to the College who do have bias reporting systems in place. The Committee members then distilled the list of 30 colleges into a list of ten worth examining in more depth. The Committee has since begun to interview the colleges whose systems they are studying. As of Tuesday, the Committee had had several substantive conversations with the other
colleges in consideration.

One factor involved with creating a bias report system would be how the College would define “bias,” Anthony said. Anthony featured two examples from two schools whose systems the Committee is exploring, Williams College and Skidmore College. Williams, Anthony said, had interpreted bias in an expansive way and had a long list of acts and protected groups that would constitute an act of bias. Skidmore College, alternately, has a bias system with a fairly open interpretation of bias’s meaning.

Much of the forum’s discussion centered on whether or not the College’s bias reporting system, should it be created, would allow reporters to remain anonymous. Members of the Committee had sampled schools with systems that had the option for anonymity, should reporters choose it, and schools whose systems were only confidential. Some in attendance questioned whether or not an anonymous reporting system would lead to misuse or abuse. Committee members said that at colleges they have interviewed, misuse of their bias systems never emerged as an issue.

Other attendees at the forum noted that perhaps a system with an anonymous option would help members of campus feel more comfortable bringing matters of bias forward. Anthony said that the bias reporting system would, ideally, have to do with getting a clearer, more comprehensive view of what students’ lives are like at the College. Anthony said the Committee had entertained the idea that a system that required students to identify themselves could make them more unwilling to report incidents rather than if they could report and remain anonymous.

Further, others noted that the creation of a bias reporting system could contribute to a campus environment in which it would appear that the College was concerned with transparency and with student well-being. Some in attendance pointed out that though rules surrounding sexual misconduct are fairly explicit in the student handbook, how the College handles acts of bias is not. Creating a bias reporting system could make the College’s stance on, and consequences of, such acts more clear.

Once the Committee arrives at a recommendation, the matter of a bias reporting system will then go back to the Office of the Provost. The other members of the Committee are spectrometer technician Beth Buckwalter, Director of Human Resources Laura Fiore, Facilities Planning and Capital Project’s Kelly Ressler, Assistant Professor of Economics Leanne Roncolato, and students Caroline Lawrence ‘18 and Chan McNamara ‘16. The forum’s stark attendance was comprised of faculty and professional staff and two students.

Senior Erin Moyer is the Senior Editor. Her email is emoyer@fandm.edu.

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