Over the last decade, higher education has experienced a proliferation of bias response teams (BRTs). While some institutions have had teams responsible for responding to bias-related incidents for decades, others recently created teams in the wake of high-profile campus flashpoint incidents, which brought the entities into public consciousness.
This proliferation prompted EAB in 2017 to create the Campus Bias Response briefing, which outlines the various responsibilities, supporter expectations, and detractor concerns of bias response teams. Five or so years after the briefing’s publication, however, we have new insights into how bias response teams are working, prompting us to reflect and reevaluate their mission, goals and intended outcomes.
The following insights encourage institutions—even those with long-standing BRTs—to review the team’s policies and procedures to ensure they are working as effectively as possible.
Bias incidents include conduct, speech, or expression driven by prejudice that do not involve a criminal act and may not rise to the level of a law or policy violation. These incidents do impact campus climate, however, and can include micro-aggressions, protests, and events which negatively impact certain groups (Miller, Ryan., et al. "A Balancing Act"). When a bias-related incident involves a criminal component, it is usually determined as a hate crime and shared with the appropriate authorities.
Bias response teams are campus committees established to receive and respond to reports of bias. There are a range of expectations or key functions for these entities beyond report response, which commonly include:
- Supporting individuals or groups targeted by bias incidents
- Referring those impacted to appropriate campus resources, support services, and other units on and off campus as necessary
- Tracking trends of bias incidents on campus and in the surrounding community
- Educating the campus community on impacts of bias incidents and trends
- Creating and promoting educational initiatives to foster an inclusive campus climate
Three common pain points for BRTs
With these wide-ranging responsibilities in mind, bias and response teams have and continue to face three common pain points.
Pain point 1: Highly charged and political climates
With the increased use of social media and a highly politicized campus environment, bias incidents on campus are receiving an unprecedented amount of attention. Bias response teams often bear the brunt of the criticism.
Some critics view the teams as “thought police,” an entity established to monitor and restrict free speech. Others demand BRTs take punitive action against those accused of perpetrating a bias incident, even if the incident falls short of a policy violation. The teams are thus pressured to draw a nebulous line between free speech protected under the first amendment and actions that require a swift response, even as they recognize all bias-related incidents negatively impact campus climate.
Pain point 2: Competing goals and differing expectations from stakeholders
Relatedly, bias response teams are often caught between competing expectations. They are pulled between those who demand action in response to incidents and those who have a stake in maintaining and promoting a positive institutional reputation. In practice, BRTs are often tasked with both responding to individual incidents and helping the institution address larger systemic challenges.
Pain point 3: Reactive responses to systemic issues
Given the limited resources and staff dedicated to bias response work and the growing number of incidents, most teams operate reactively to individual acts. This conflicts with the original charge of most bias response teams, which includes both responses to incidents and scalable educational efforts to help prevent them. Additionally, it leaves those working on the teams with a sense they are treating symptoms rather than the disease—they are helping those affected navigate the system in place, rather than taking the steps necessary to positively impact and change the culture (Miller, 2018).
EAB research highlights how the pain points above create a misalignment between BRT goals in theory and tasks completed in practice. Most teams are unable to simultaneously determine the necessary response and support for singular incidents, communicate the response to the wider campus community, and carry out educational efforts aimed at creating a safe, inclusive environment.
Considerations to enhance BRT impact
The following are considerations in amending or creating bias response teams with the above pain points in mind.
Reassess your bias response team's processes, resources, and staff makeup
Enhance your bias response team's efficacy
More on campus climate
Campus Bias Response briefing
With these considerations in mind, review EAB’s Campus Bias Response briefing to enhance the impact of your institution’s Bias Response Team.