Maine college’s website offers glimpse at which ‘biases’ spark investigations
By Evan Lips | June 28, 2016, 18:36 EDT
WATERVILLE, MAINE — A New England private liberal arts college’s website appears to shed light on what types of student bias complaints — or “microaggressions” — may trigger an administrative investigation.
Colby College, an exclusive school comprised of about 1,800 undergraduates, features a section on the school website that logs complaints filed with a so-called bias incident prevention and response team, made up of “trained faculty, staff and students.”
The incident log, which is public, documents the date, location and nature of reported incidents, in addition to a detailed description of each allegation.
On Feb. 21, a report was filed alleging that a student used the phrase “on the other hand” — which the school classified as targeting an individual’s “ability” to use two hands (thus, apparently, making disabled students feel marginalized).
The log also contains allegations more serious in nature, such as reports of assault, but it also includes complaints that students donned sombreros at a Halloween party and wore coconut bikini tops at a pretend luau. It also includes a report that “two members of the basketball team dressed up as Hasidic Jews to celebrate their ninth annual Mustachio Bashio.”
Colby College’s online log dates back to September 2012. In one of the reports, dated Nov. 2, 2012, a key detail was later clarified:
“Swastika carved into a pumpkin. *Report canceled, not a swastika.”
According to a report published in March by the New Republic, more than 100 American colleges and universities feature some version of a response team tasked with investigating alleged incidents of bias. Colby College, however, appears to be unique among New England colleges in that it makes descriptions and details of various allegations public.
Bowdoin College, a similarly-sized private institution which is located about an hour south of Colby in Brunswick, Maine, also maintains an online list of so-called bias incidents but the index is only accessible by students, faculty and staff.
But Bowdoin made headlines in March after members of a student council considered impeaching two student representatives for attending a tequila-themed party where white students reportedly donned miniature, makeshift sombreros. After offending photos found their way onto social media platforms, Bowdoin administrators offered counseling services to students who may have been “injured and affected.”
One professor even offered up a guest room in her house to be used as a place of refuge to those affected by the incident:
— Doris Santoro (@DorisASantoro) March 1, 2016
Oddly enough, Bowdoin College’s own alumni reunion festivities in 2015 featured a photo booth featuring sombreros as a costume option. According to the college’s Facebook page, the sombreros were a hit with alumni:
Bates College, located in Lewiston, Maine, also boasts a “community response team” tasked with probing various reports. The school does not post details on its website, although it does feature a link where visitors can download a list of campus crime statistics, such as burglaries and car thefts.
In Massachusetts, Boston College launched its own bias response team last October. A visit to the school website states, however, that “reporting protocol is currently under further review in light of comments from the BC community.”
Halting the work of the response team did not sit well with Boston College social justice activists:
Ask: Reinstate Bias Incident Response Team (it is down) Response: Needs faculty approval
— Eradicate BC Racism (@BCRacism) February 25, 2016
— Craig A. Ford, Jr. (@cfordjr) February 25, 2016
Other Massachusetts schools are still grappling with how to best configure and manage their bias reporting systems.
In February, the Harvard Crimson reported that the prestigious Ivy League school is overhauling its bias reporting system. According to the Crimson report, Harvard decided to revamp its reporting system after receiving criticism for its handling of a cryptic mass email allegedly sent out by an unnamed teenager residing in France.
The teenager, in a semi-incoherent diatribe brimming with broken English, allegedly threatened to kill hundreds of students. His 15-year-old brother apparently emailed recipients a day later to apologize for his sibling’s deed.
According to the Crimson, the French teenager’s stunt managed to affect the way the school’s bias reporting system operates. Emelyn A. de la Peña, assistant dean of student life for equity, diversity and inclusion, told the student newspaper that the system in place is “incomplete.”
“When the email threats happened, we realized that the current bias reporting system we had was really designed for one-on-one interaction — but we didn’t have a mechanism for reporting something that happened to hundreds of people at the same time from one person who was not even a part of the college,” she said.