By Kat Saunders
The University of Mary Washington released a draft of the proposed “Bias Offense and Incident Reporting Policy and Procedures” Wednesday, January 23. The new procedures allow members of the University community to report online incidents of discrimination or bias. A designated staff member will follow up all incident reports.
According to Associate Vice President of Human Relations Sabrina Johnson, the Advisory Council on Diversity and Community Values began to discuss a bias-reporting program in September of 2007.
Creation of the program was accelerated in response to the Jefferson Hall incident in November, where a group of freshman residents were accused of displaying offensive materials. The incident attracted the attention of statewide media and the UMW administration was criticized for its handling of the incident.
“The community’s response to the race-related events in November created an urgency for its development,” Johnson said.
The web reports will also be used to collect data on incidents and create educational and outreach programs. A similar program, called “Just Report It!” is used at the University of Virginia.
The new procedure is designed to let community members submit complaints and resolve conflicts privately and informally. Complaints may be submitted even if reporters do not want to have the incident handled formally or if the incident does not violate school policy or law.
“This reporting policy is not limited to illegal activity. It’s an opportunity for us to understand the experiences that members of our community are having with bias conduct.” Johnson said.
After the comment period, the policy will be reviewed. The official policy is expected to be released and implemented in late March or early April.
Three student comments have been submitted since last week.
Junior Kiama Anderson, resident of the Black Student Association, said the policy is a positive step for the school and that other students should become involved.
“I think that this procedure is indeed a huge step in the right direction for the University. It shows that the administration has considered the fact that there is an issue with both discrimination and diversity on this campus,” Anderson said. “I think that not enough students are aware of what the policy says. I think we should all make a good effort to read it and examine it.”
Johnson also commented on the policy’s purpose.
“It is important for students, faculty and staff to understand that the reporting feature of this policy is not about ‘Big Brother.’ It is very much about creating a safe and welcoming learning and working environment,” Johnson said.