On Tuesday, Jan. 26, members of the newly-formed Bias Response Team visited Community Council to present their group’s mission and invite feedback.
“The three core pieces of what we are thinking as we move forward are prevention, education and response,” said AJ Place, associate dean for judicial affairs and student life and member of the Bias Response Team.
The purpose of the team, members explained, was to address incidents of bias that may not have been addressed in the past, due to problems with categorization.
“One of the tricky points for us was figuring out where bias begins and ends versus discrimination and harassment,” explained Miguel Fernandez, professor of Spanish and interim chief diversity officer.
They offered the example of unintentionally offensive humor, which may not be considered harassment or discrimination, but which is capable of harming students’ well-being. The team does not have disciplinary authority, but members emphasized that the College would be able to discipline individuals while the Bias Response Team continues to act on a case.
In terms of education, the team shared that they plan to publicly summarize recent cases, potentially through a column in the Campus. Fernandez said that one of the team’s immediate goals was simply to promote awareness of the existence of the Bias Response Team, while Place hoped that over time, the team could play a role in a larger cultural shift on campus.
Next, the Council witnessed a proposal from Charles Rainey ’19 and Student Co-Chair Tiff Chang ’17.5 primarily regarding the “MLK Today” event held at Mead Chapel on Jan. 18. According to Rainey and Chang, the event featured “numerous highly offensive and post-racial actions” including “a mainly-white chorus repeating direct quotes from Dr. King” and “white students delivering quotes that police people of colors’ reactions to racism.”
In addition, they cited controversial comments made by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in December’s Fisher v. University of Texas case, in which he implied that black students may suffer academically at elite institutions. Rainey and Chang proposed that President of the College Laurie L. Patton send a campus-wide email within three days addressing the two incidents.
Fernandez shared a response from Patton in which she discussed the College’s progress on the thirteen action points presented at the Town Hall Meeting in December and shared her plans to write extensively on the Fisher case, but cautioned that she cannot comment publicly on every issue she deeply disagrees with, especially before discussions between the offended parties have taken place.
On Tuesday, Feb. 2, Community Council voted on a recommendation from Dining Software Intern Myles Kamisher-Koch to cease the sale of energy drinks at on-campus retail food locations. The Council debated the recommendation, and while some expressed concern over a potential intrusion into students’ freedom of choice, the majority of members strongly supported the measure.
“It wouldn’t ban their use,” explained Fiona Mohamed ’18 — instead, it is only their sale on campus that would be restricted.
The Council eventually approved the recommendation by a vote of 11 to 1. The recommendation will now go to Patton.
Afterwards, the Council intended to vote on Rainey and Chang’s recommendation from the prior week. While many on the Council voiced their support for the larger effort to affirm that students of color belong on campus, several suggested that they were uncomfortable with the recommendation’s language, which appeared to directly link the “MLK Today” event with the comments made by Justice Scalia.
Ultimately, while five members voted to proceed with a formal vote on the recommendation, six voted to table it until the Council’s next meeting in the Spring semester.