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Developing a university impact response team at Denison University

December 14, 2023

Richard Brown, MA

Associate Dean of Student Life and Director of the Center for Belonging and Inclusion, Denison University

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.

University campuses often struggle with pervasive biases based on identity factors including, but not limited to, race, gender, religious affiliation, and socioeconomic background. These inequalities limit both students’ and educators’ ability to reach their full potential and create a thriving learning environment for all (Chesler, et. al. 2005). Recognizing these inequalities and actively working to dismantle them is crucial for achieving a truly equitable educational experience for everyone.

One way that institutions have responded to hostile campus environments is by creating impact response teams (LePeau, et al. 2018). Methods for engaging in impact response work vary, but impact response teams tend to be university-wide committees that respond to reports of racial, and other identity-related, charged incidents on college campuses to promote institutional goals of inclusion (Garces, et al. 2022). In the development of our university impact response team at Denison University, we grounded our work in our larger institutional goals, reckoned with the need for this level of student support, and surveyed the literature and peer institutions for models.

First, we ground our work in institutional priorities. Creating an impact response team aligns seamlessly with several key initiatives at Denison University.

  1. Building a Sense of Belonging: This directly addresses the “Foster a sense of Belonging and Inclusion” goal outlined in the Student Life Strategic Plan.
  2. Action-Oriented Approach: This team embodies the spirit of Denison Forward, the university’s diversity strategic plan, and responds to President Weinberg’s call to spark, nurture, and demand change.
  3. Upholding University Principles: The team strengthens Denison’s core principles of diversity and anti-racism. It furthers the commitment to treat each other and the environment with mutual respect, tolerance, and civility, as stated in the guiding principles statement.
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Second, there were many reasons for initiating impact response support; however, two compelling reasons for the creation of a comprehensive institutional response to identity-based harm are student experiences and external expectations. Primarily, anecdotal accounts from minoritized students painted a clear picture of pervasive microaggressions, bias, and even harmful incidents faced on campus. Our lack of any formal reporting or response system meant these concerns vanished into a void, leaving affected students unsupported and unheard. Beyond student needs, external stakeholders also raised expectations for robust institutional support. For instance, the Department of Education regularly issues guidance for universities in response to widespread data on identity-based incidents. Failing to address these calls could negatively impact our standing and ability to serve all students effectively.

Third, after considering various approaches to address identity-related harm to students, we have found that the restorative justice approach aligns most effectively with our institutional style. We also found that Fania Davis, a prominent advocate of restorative justice practices, provides valuable insights into this approach in her book “The Little Book of Race and Restorative Justice: Black Lives, Healing, and US Social Transformation” (2019). Additionally, resources such as Garces, Ambriz, & Pedota’s “Legal Challenges to Bias Response Teams on College Campuses” (2022) and D.A. Hooker’s “The Little Book of Transformative Community Conferencing: A Hopeful, Practical Approach to Dialogue” (2016) offers further guidance on the broader context of restorative justice.

In our pursuit of knowledge and implementation of restorative practices, securing the services of AMB Davis Consulting, a leading expert in restorative practices, has proven instrumental. This consultancy not only facilitated our understanding and application of restorative practices, but also provided valuable insights into best practices adopted by peer institutions. Additionally, in managing incident reporting, we have identified Maxient as the most effective web-based platform. With its capability to easily handle records and share data in a FERPA-compliant manner, Maxient has become a trusted tool used by over 1,300 colleges and universities for various case management purposes, including academic integrity, care and concern, and Title IX matters.

In closing, instead of merely reacting to incidents of identity-based harm, universities have a moral and practical obligation to create a proactive culture of inclusivity. Investing in clear response protocols is essential, but true progress lies in building a welcoming campus that affirms diverse identities and experiences. This requires ongoing efforts toward comprehensive diversity training programs, equity-minded initiatives that nurture student success, and continuous climate assessments that inform action-oriented decisions. By prioritizing prevention, institutions can protect student well-being, enhance the learning experience, and demonstrate their commitment to a just and equitable environment.


Chesler, M., Lewis, A. E., & Crowfoot, J. E. (2005). Challenging racism in higher education: Promoting justice. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Davis, F. (2019). The little book of race and restorative justice black lives, healing, and US social transformation. Good Books.

Garces, L. M., Ambriz, E., & Pedota, J. (2022). Legal Challenges to Bias Response Teams on College Campuses. Educational Researcher, 51(6), 431-435.

Hooker, D. A. (2016). The Little Book of Transformative Community Conferencing: A Hopeful, Practical Approach to Dialogue. United States: Good Books.

LePeau, L.A., Snipes, J.T., Morgan, D., & Zimmerman, H. (2018). Campus Educators Deploying Cultural and Social Capital: Critically Examining a Bias Response Team. Journal of College Student Development 59(6), 681-697.

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