Colleges create centralized teams to fight bias on campus

'We believe the best way to combat offensive free speech is with more speech'

Colleges and universities are increasingly creating dedicated bias assessment and response teams (BARTs) to identify incidents and trends of discrimination on campus, Rio Fernandes reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The groups offer a central location for students to report incidents and a way for the university to track reports and spot developing problems. If someone violates the school code of conduct, the team determines the appropriate response and follows up to ensure it happens.

At large schools, such as early adopter Ohio State University, it's easy for reports to end up lost, says Todd Suddeth, director of the institution's multicultural center. A centralized reporting system prevents that and makes it easier to notice and investigate trends.  

At Ohio State, students email reports and then a member of the bias team replies and forwards the complaint to the appropriate office.

However, BARTs do not typically dole out punishments themselves—that function remains with the campus judicial process.

"If we've learned something this last year, it's the importance of campuses being both proactive and appropriately reactive," says Kevin Kruger, NASPA president.

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BARTs also design educational programs in response to trends they identify.

"We believe the best way to combat offensive free speech is with more speech," says Maure Smith-Benanti, University of Oregon's bias-response team coordinator.

Groups raise freedom of speech concerns

Some free-speech organizations, however, say they worry about any programs to limit any sort of speech.

"Having a culture where students are encouraged to report any instances of offensive speech to the administration, it's just not necessarily conducive for having real free and open debates," says Samantha Harris, director of policy research at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

But administrators say they want to know what's happening at their schools.

"We want to know the pulse of the campus," says Jeff Knapp, head of the BART at University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). "We want an all-encompassing view of how we can make sure our students and anyone that steps on the UNO campus feel welcome" (Fernandes, Chronicle of Higher Education, 2/1).

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