At last night’s “Fireside Chat,” community members met in the Great Hall to discuss, dissect and acknowledge the 29 reports of bias, discrimination and harassment received by the Office of Inclusive Community Well-Being in winter and spring 2015.
The number 29 is alarming on any college campus — especially as it represents an increase of 12 in the number of reports from the fall. But to many students, especially students who have experienced incidents of racial bias, discrimination and harassment, the number seems far too low.
Just a month ago, the Presidential Task Force on Black Student, Faculty and Staff Experiences revealed that of the black faculty and staff respondents, 74 percent reported incidents of disparaging race-related comment directed at them, and 65 percent of 151 black students reported the same.
While Leigh-Anne Royster, director of Inclusive Community Well-Being, said it’s hard to compare these numbers in a useful way, the statistics underscore the need for the community to continue to support efforts that address bias, harassment, hate and violence.
“Continuing to work to both provide comprehensive resources to folks who have been the target of these acts and focusing efforts on education to prevent these incidents in the first place are two key aspects of creating a more inclusive and welcoming community,” Royster said.
According to Dean of Multicultural AffairsRandy Williams Jr, , one step towards igniting social change around racial bias is through the process of reporting.
“There’s a great deal of power in reporting,” Williams said. “We want to be able to respond to these cases in a way that speaks to the sense of safety and security we strongly want to achieve on this campus. One way of doing that is to make the administration aware.”
Since its two years of existence, Elon University’s bias, discrimination and harassment reporting tool serves as a way for students to gain the support, confidentiality and access to report and take action surrounding discriminatory, bigotry and micro-aggressions.
To report or not to report
When asked if he has personally experienced an incident of racial bias, harassment or discrimination on Elon’s campus, sophomore Alonzo Cee began his response with the words, “One of the many…”
Sifting through possible options, he chose to recall a specific event that occurred when he was serving as a Safe Rides volunteer and one of the passengers in his car yelled a racial slur at him.
According to Cee, who identifies as biracial, many of his friends of color have experienced similar incidents.
“It’s especially sad to see it happen to my friends that are first years as well,” he said. “I feel like I’ve experienced all kinds of racial bias on this campus.”
Cee said while he did not think twice before reporting the incident because he firmly believes that reports need to be made in order to change the climate, many of his peers choose not to do the same because of perceived responses from the overall Elon community.
“I think some students don’t report because they do not want to be scrutinized and victim-blamed by white students on campus,” Cee said. “There is still a lot of denial as to the events that happen on this campus because of the ‘bubble’ mindset.”
Junior Jasper Thomas said other students choose not to report because of a lack of awareness about the reporting tool and doubt about the change that can be made from reporting isolated incidents. These reasons dissuaded him from reporting an incident he faced at a fraternity party where a peer yelled a racial slur at him.
“The most you can do is hope to not ever see the person again,” Thomas said. “I didn’t know I could report it back then, and I think I didn’t know if it was important enough to report, either.”
If he could change his decision, Thomas said he would have reported the incident without a doubt.
“These things need to be reported,” Thomas said. “Without those reports, there will be no foundation or awareness for things to change for future students.”
Royster said across all identities, every incident that involved discrimination, in any way, is worth reporting.
“Separate [sic] people may experience a similar act very differently,” she said. “We will do our best to prioritize the agency of students, faculty and staff who report incidents of bias and/or harassment and will take time to explain all available processes and necessary procedures.”
Privilege and the bystander’s role
To Thomas and Cee, privilege on campus plays a primary role in the denial, lack of acknowledgement and overall unawareness of discriminatory racial incidents on campus.
“I don’t think the general student body is aware of the issue at all,” Thomas said. “If you don’t have to experience it yourself, you won’t feel the need to take the time and energy to go out and see what’s happening in other communities.”
Junior June Shuler said asking questions, acknowledging privilege and serving as an advocate is important to break that norm.
Shuler recalled the time one of her closest friends, a student of color, brought up an incident in which a passerby yelled a racial slur at her during a fraternity party. While the incident itself alarmed her, Shuler said she was mostly taken aback by the way her friend described the experience in a “matter-of-fact” and “numb” manner.
“We say that we ‘belong’ on this campus, but do we allow access for minority students to feel that sense of belonging?” Shuler said. “Acknowledging my own white privilege, it’s very dangerous to think that we, as a campus, have allowed for such incidents to be a norm for some students in our community.”
Shuler said incidents of racial discrimination, bias or harassment often occur on campus at parties, where students are under the influence of alcohol.
“Alcohol isn’t an excuse,” Shuler said. “Even if it’s under the influence of alcohol. This is the 21st, century and we’re on a campus that always talked about diversity and belonging. This shouldn’t happen.”
After hearing her friend’s story, Shuler couldn’t let it go. That very night, she put all her homework aside and sat in front of her computer, drafting an email with the subject: “From a concerned student.” Ensuring that her message would reach authorities who could make a difference, she included higher members of the administration such as Leo Lambert, Elon University president, and Smith Jackson, Dean of Student Life.
“I didn’t feel like [what happened to my friend] was my story to tell,” Shuler said. “But I wanted people to be aware that it happened.”
Shuler encouraged bystanders to report incidents.
“It’s sad because something like a reporting tool shouldn’t have to exist in the first place,” Shuler said. “But it’s important to recognize that the people who receive the reports are those who really care and really want to change campus climate and you shouldn’t have to experience something to want to change it.”
The reporting process
According to the Office of Inclusive Community Well-Being’s website, the three goals of reporting are to 1) support and respond to those who have experienced identity-based hate 2) respond directly to offenders if identified and 3) track the overall incidents in our community each year. With this information, the office hopes to tailor educational efforts for the campus community and report about campus climate.
The reporting tool is online-based, but students, faculty and staff are also able to make reports over the phone and in person.
Whichever means of reporting the individual or parties involve choose, the reporter will retain control over their identity being released to other parties, unless ordered to do so by a court subpoena or as mandated by Title IX, in cases of gender-based violence and harassment.
After a report is made, members of the community will have a variety of options for redress. As the website states, “From criminal prosecution, to campus judicial processes and community restorative justice options, [the office] supports the agency of the targeted person in their preferred process in the aftermath of an incident of bias.”
“Even if the person does not choose to engage in a process in the aftermath, the information helps us track patterns over time and best direct resources to improve campus climate,” Royster said. “Even if you are not the target of an incident, if you witness it — report. That information is just as helpful in assessing campus climate.”
Process Advocates, faculty and staff members from across campus who are trained to advocate with the individual or groups seeking to understand or process an instance of bias, harassment or discrimination, also play an integral role in the reporting process.
Working across institutional departments to best advocate with the individuals involved, Advocates support and help the involved parties, especially in the pre-reporting and post-reporting process where individuals involved may choose to simply talk about the incident with an identified, trained authority figure.
“Process Advocates don’t lead the student into reporting anything or don’t guide the conversation,” Williams said. “They serve as a support mechanism and are there to answer questions, listen and offer advice if requested.”
Sharing information to the public
Currently, the only public forum where information about reports are shared to the public community are “Fireside Chats,” an event series led by the Office of Inclusive Community Well-Being where Royster shares information about reported incidents from the previous semester and offers a question and answer session regarding campus processes and resources.
Royster said because any given incident includes intersectionality — as many events might reach beyond different identities and intentions — a public forum serves as a positive way to maintain conversations about these events while acknowledging that they happened.
“[At a public forum] participants can ask questions and seek a more full understanding,” Royster said. “I think that helps for authentic growth and learning around these issues.”
Shuler said acknowledgement that these incidents happen after they have been reported is integral in changing culture.
“I think Elon is a campus that does listen to students,” she said. “Honesty, integrity, responsibility and respect are all words we have signed our name next to. We need to take that seriously.”
The next fireside chat will take place 6:30 p.m. Nov. 18 in the Oaks Neighborhood Club Room. All community members are welcome and don’t have to be a resident of that area to attend.