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Multiple bias incident reports lead to ACESS policy changes

Multiple bias-motivated incidents recorded this year prompted SGA to revisit ACESS reporting processes.

This week, Student Government Association (SGA) mobilized to change policies regarding the reporting of bias-motivated incidents in light of a recent incident. The bias-motivated incident in question occurred in Gardner Lounge during a party when a group of white attendee’s sang the n-word, which threatened many students at the party. The incident was included in the student security chief’s report. From there, it made its way to the SGA cabinet’s agenda for their weekly meeting.

In response to the incident, there will now be a clause in Gardner party host contracts specifically addressing bias-motivated incidents, according to co-All Campus Committee Chair Selah Mystic ’19.

Reports of bias-motivated incidents that come to the attention of the student security chief can result in a phone call to the ACE chairs and a conversation with the host of the party. Reports can also result in the party being shut down, although Mystic emphasized that they would be careful not to set a precedent of “shutting every party down.”

Grinnell College defines bias-motivated incidents as “expression[s] of hostility toward a person, group or property thereof because of such person’s … identifying or perceived race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, veteran status, pregnancy, childbirth, religion, disability or creed.” The Campus Life Policies guide notes that while all hate crimes are bias-motivated incidents, not all bias-motivated incidents are hate crimes.

There are multiple processes for reporting bias-motivated incidents. One process is an online form through which the reporter can remain anonymous. Another process is to call (641)269-3700. During business hours, this number puts the reporter in contact with the Response Team, comprised of Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Lakesia Johnson, Director of Intercultural Affairs Maure Smith-Benanti and “appointed additional staff as needed and appropriate,” according to the Campus Life Policies. Students reporting bias-motivated incidents are encouraged to document the incident. This includes writing down verbatim verbal interactions and taking photos of vandalism.

Reporting an incident to the Response Team could result in many outcomes. Depending on the nature of the incident, the Response Team may pursue formal resolutions, such as a hearing with the College Hearing Board, or informal resolutions, such as mediated conversation between reporters and alleged perpetrators.

Some factors in reaching a resolution include a person’s desire or reluctance to move forward with a more formal procedure, frequency of cases reported against a specific person, the existence and availability of relevant evidence and the severity of the allegations. Sometimes, Johnson pointed out, complainants are just looking for someone to mediate a conversation with the alleged perpetrator. Johnson emphasized that all reports are evaluated on a highly contextualized case-by-case basis, and that there is no simple “throwing the book at somebody.”

According to Johnson, there are times when a more formal process may be deemed necessary, even when it goes against the wishes of the reporter. These instances require careful consideration, creative solutions and “treading lightly,” she said. This is a part of the effort to balance the safety and wishes of the person who reports a bias-motivated incident with the safety of others on campus.

The College Hearing Board is used here instead of the Judicial Council (JudCo). All bias-motivated incidents and hate crimes that are not sex- or gender-based fall under the jurisdiction of the College Hearing Board. According to the Student Handbook, “typically [the College Hearing Board] hears cases that might result in possible suspension or dismissal from the College,” whereas JudCo does not have the power to recommend expulsion. JudCo also explicitly addresses incidents that happen on-campus or in campus-owned buildings. The Hearing Board, on the other hand, hears “any matter in which a student violates the rights of a student, faculty, staff member or College guest.”

On Sept. 7, 2017, Grinnell students received an email from Johnson condemning acts of bias and intimidation. This was after two such acts had been reported in one week.

There was no all-campus Clery Incident Report email; the incidents in question occurred off-campus in a private home, while the Clery Act only applies to incidents that happen on College property or on public property next to campus. Still, the student accused of the threatening behavior had a hearing with the College, as the College Hearing Board has jurisdiction over incidents in which the President or Associate Vice President of Student Affairs deems that “a student violates the rights of a student.”

The Clery Act requires colleges to report crime statistics, to inform students when crimes occur and compile those statistics into a report made available to anyone. The Student Handbook states that the school cannot use the legal term “hate crime,” a crime that can only be tried in court, and instead uses the term “bias-motivated incident.” However, the Clery Act appears to mark at least some bias-motivated incidents as worthy of report as a crime statistic. Johnson used the phrase “threatening behavior motivated by bias” to characterize the incident in the all-campus email. This seems to align with the Clery Act’s definition of intimidation, which includes “the use of threatening words and/or other conduct, but without displaying a weapon or subjecting the victim to actual physical attack.”

Multiple bias-motivated incidents recorded this year prompted SGA to revisit ACESS reporting processes.
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