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Students, admins agree on changes to BMI response

A Nov. 16 follow-up meeting to the most recent bias-motivated incident (BMI) resulted in the creation of three subcommittees. One intends to create a BMI response team, another to encourage communication with student leaders and the community as a whole and the third to establish a restorative justice board.

Associate Dean of the College and Acting Vice President of Diversity and Achievement Kathleen Skerrett hosted the meeting. President Raynard Kington and many student leaders also attended.

All of these projects are in the planning stages, with a goal of being ready for the next academic year. First, the BMI response team would be a group of students, faculty and staff that works to proactively educate the community and respond after incidents occur.

“It has to be active not just at troubled times, but doing education, talking about how to have a healthier community and building it into Grinnell’s values,” said subcommitee member Sam Rebelsky, Computer Science. “It probably doesn’t have the skill set to work with targeted individuals, but it does have some responsibility to work with the community.”

The group is studying response teams at other institutions, but Grinnell’s would be different from most in that students would be a central part of the team.

The second major focus of the follow-up meeting was improving communication after an incident.

“There needs to be more communication between the people working with the victim and the campus community,” said Student Government Association President Ben Offenberg ’11.

One idea is to notify certain student leaders before the rest of the community, so that some people are informed and can spread knowledge when an incident is announced. There was also discussion about the best medium with which to notify the community.

“I personally learned that we needed a communication strategy with the campus,” Skerrett said. “I made very conservative decisions about communication with the campus, and they were read as hiding or not caring, but what I was trying to protect was the confidentiality of the individuals.”

To address this problem, Skerrett hopes to build a clear communication system into the BMI protocol. After an incident, “a certain group of student leaders should expect there will be a briefing,” she said.

There were also issues of too much information getting out about targeted individuals through several sources.
“Information got out which could have jeopardized the police investigation and put the individual in an uncomfortable and potentially unsafe position” said Maddie Bowman ’11.

The third group is working on creating a restorative justice board as an alternative to Judicial Council or the College Hearing Board after an incident. Both the targeted individual and the offender would have to agree to go before the restorative justice board, or else the Judicial Council or Hearing Board would deal with the matter as usual.

“Rather than adjudicate through Hearing Board, which might result in dismissal or suspension, it’s a way to retain people in the community and grow and learn,” said Dean of Students Travis Greene.

The feelings of the community would also be considered, so in rare instances, even if both targeted individual and offender agreed to restorative justice, the community’s views could change that.

“There might be a time where the community says ‘why would we want this person in our community?’” Greene said.

The follow-up meeting also discussed general responses to BMIs, with a consensus on the need for more education and an explanation of what a BMI is and what the policy is. The details are still being worked out as to whether information will be added to NSO or another forum for education early in the semester.

“It would be beneficial to the College to fully fund AJust to get more individuals involved,” Bowman said.

Both the BMI response team and the restorative justice board were ideas included in the “Aspirations” document released by the College alongside this year’s revised BMI Response Protocol. The work on achieving these goals is part of the ongoing process of revising the Protocol.

“It’s a great thing that after the fact we’re going back and looking at the protocol,” Offenberg said.

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  • J

    JimDec 3, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    Man, I can’t read the acronym BMI without thinking it refers to body mass index. Wondering if someone can come up with a less convoluted term to describe a d-bag move.

    Until then, I’ll prevent my future confusion by reminding myself that Grinnell has yet to assemble a team to respond to student body girth.