In response to the volume and complexity of bias incidents and issues on campus in recent years, many institutions have developed a bias response team (BRT) to intake and respond to incidents, as well as monitor and improve campus climate. The scope, activities, and impact of these teams vary widely, as do their reception on campus.
While these teams have existed on some campuses for many years, they have come under increased scrutiny and pressure in recent months with heightened tensions on campuses and across the country over free speech. While some argue that they are in important tool for institutions to monitor campus climate, and for students impacted by bias to have a pathway to report their experiences, others fear the impact that these teams have on stifling free speech and open dialogue on campus.
This resource is part of the Navigating Student Activism Roadmap. Access the Roadmap for stepwise guidance with additional tools and research.
Your institution must decide whether a formal team is the right fit for your campus activity, student population, and institutional priorities. Whether you are currently considering launching a team, or evaluating an existing team, EAB research uncovered four key lessons learned around BRTs to guide your efforts.
Key lessons learned from a tumultuous 2017
1. Update and refine an institutional bias policy
A necessary starting point to the work of a bias response team is to have a formal institutional definition of bias that is widely accepted by and accessible to the campus community. This ensures clarity and buy-in around the institution’s stance on bias, and reduces potential pushback to team actions.
Below is one example of clear institutional definitions of bias.
Bias definition example: The Ohio State University
What is a bias incident?
Bias incidents are acts or behaviors motivated by the offender’s bias against age, ancestry, color, disability, gender identity or expression, genetic information, HIV/AIDS status, military status, national origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or veteran status. While these acts to not necessarily rise to the level of a crime, a violation of state law, university policy, or the Student Code of Conduct, a bias act may contribute to creating an unsafe, negative, or unwelcome environment for the victim; anyone who shares the same social identity as the victim; and/or, community members of the University (*Note: Non-discrimination language is taken from OSU Human Resources).
2. Determine team charge and scope
There is wide variation across campuses in the structure, membership, purview, and activity of BRTs. EAB research highlights how critical it is that your institution determine the parameters by which your BRT will operate. Many teams have run into trouble by not carefully defining and discussing what the scope and related policies and procedures of their team will be.
While BRTs come in many shapes and sizes, we observe two distinct models that represent the ends of the spectrum in terms of institutional priorities and team scope:
Model #1: An incident response team
- Bias report received by team
- Confirmation sent to reporting party within 48 hours
- Report assigned to a team member or “reporter advocate” for follow-up
- Advocate reaches out to reporter and accused party to collect more information
- Remedy (e.g., sanction or intervention) determined and issue addressed (e.g., graffiti erased)
- Resolution communicated to all involved parties
Model #2: A campus climate team
- Intake: Every report received is archived based on the type of incident that has occurred (Neither the reporter or the accused individual is necessarily contacted)
- Reporting: Incident accounts are compiled and categorized into regular reports (quarterly or annual) shared with the campus community
- Monitoring and trend analysis: Team members perform trend analysis on aggregate data to determine an action plan and any campus initiatives necessary to address climate issues
3. Create a tiered rollout and communication plan
A carefully crafted rollout of your Bias Response Team and a clear articulation of its scope and purpose to the campus community is key to ensuring buy-in from various campus stakeholders. Some pushback is inevitable, but an up front explanation of its purpose, scope, and authority to the broader community will help allay some potential resistance on campus.
Important lessons learned in creating a tiered rollout and communication plan
It is critical to focus on building awareness among the campus community of bias and the reporting process. Dickinson College wanted to make their bias response team more prominent on campus and increase use of the resource. They accomplished this with targeted education to increase understanding of what bias is, and how and when to engage with the team.
Most institutions that have succeeded in getting the word out to the campus community about their team and seen a culture of reporting develop have made extensive and wide-ranging efforts to inform the campus community about reporting. The institutions highlighted below have expanded team visibility by casting a wide net, using diverse channels, and being strategic with their digital presence.
The Ohio State University formed a bias response team several years ago, but felt it was solely a reactive mechanism, and wanted to do something more proactive. They wanted to reach out and educate the campus community about bias and options they have for combatting it, beyond reporting.
4. Systematize a data collection and reporting strategy
Whether or not your team decides to respond to individual incidents, it will collect rich data on the volume and trends in bias incidents on your campus across the year. Every bias response team should act as a central clearinghouse of this information, making referrals when necessary, and tracking trends in the data that can lead to an improved campus climate through greater awareness, targeted interventions, and community education.