Updated March 10, 2021, at 10:08 p.m. to include video.
The working group to design the Elon University bias response system has begun to hold listening sessions with students, faculty and staff. The sessions will allow university community members and those who receive bias reports to provide feedback before a preliminary report is delivered to vice presidents Jon Dooley and Randy Williams on April 15.
Redesigning the bias system started last July, when President Connie Book charged Williams and Dooley to lead the task. In the statement Book gave to the campus community, she requested the new bias system include a public dashboard which would provide data about racism on campus and the actions taken by the university after the incidents occurred.
The working group to redesign the bias response system includes co-chairs Associate Dean for Academic Success and professor at the Elon Law School in Greensboro Wendy Scott and Director of Student Conduct Jenni Spangenberg, and an additional eight faculty and staff members. The group meets twice a month.
Spangenberg said redesigning the bias report system came from a growing response from community members. The university community came together to create the new system with campus needs in mind, rather than one department or one office changing individually.
“That’s a lot of what our committee is trying to do,” Spangenberg said. “Seeing where those opportunities are for strengthening and make sure that we have a good system in place to support everybody.”
Scott originally served as co-chair of the group with Leigh-Anne Royster, who formerly served as the director for the center for equity and inclusive excellence. Royster left Elon in the fall to become Duke University’s assistant vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion.
When Williams asked Scott to co-chair the working group, she was not very familiar with the bias response system. Her immediate reaction when she looked at the website was the need to simplify.
“We’ve seen examples at other institutions where you go to the webpage and there’s a graph that graphs out the process, or there’s a timeline,” Scott said. “There’s something very clear. How do I do this, what would constitute as bias and how do I report it … that’s a good place to start, make the process more user friendly.”
Spangenberg, who started as a member of the working group, was also asked to become a co-chair after Royster left.
In the group’s preliminary research, members looked at almost 30 bias response systems at institutions across the country, including Elon’s peer and aspirant institutions. Two topics Spangenberg said the working group will be looking further into are training for community members around the bias risk reporting process and what options can be available to those who report incidents of bias.
In December, the working group held a listening session with alumni to hear what concerns and issues they had dealt with while at Elon. Scott said what stood out to her during the session was the alumni experiences with bias off campus and with the surrounding community, as well as some alumni not knowing where to start the reporting process.
“Many of the alum shared experiences they had, but had challenges with understanding where to go, who to report to, what role the faculty might play in helping students who have had those experiences,” Scott said. “Their input was helpful as well, hearing from the whole constituency of the Elon community.”
The working group was provided a list of students from Dooley and Williams to work in a consultant role. In the first round of listening sessions this week, students will be sharing their experience with the bias reporting system Spangenberg said. Students will also offer feedback on the research conducted and the preliminary report to be submitted to Williams and Dooley in April.
“I hope that we will get to hear what their experiences are,” Spangenberg said. “I think that will better inform what the needs are and see what our community is looking at, and just a better understanding of what would be beneficial when we’re looking at bias response.”
The bias response system can be used not just by undergraduate students, but for graduate and law students as well. Scott said the appointment of Laké Buggs, director of inclusive excellence for graduate and professional education, has helped graduate students and faculty and staff not on Elon University’s main campus better understand how the bias system can work for them as well.
Students can also report incidents of bias outside of the university — such as bias at internships or residencies — through the university system. Scott said while these cases have been handled on a case by case basis in the past, submitting them through the bias response system allows data to be collected.
“The important thing about that is while we may have resolved those incidents in house before, the reporting system collects data,” Scott said. “Because once you have that data, then you can take the next step which is okay, what can we do to minimize these incidents from occurring.”
After the listening sessions take place, the working group will submit a preliminary report to Williams and Dooley by April 15. After the report is submitted, Scott said there may be a legal counsel review of the suggestions then a revision and redrafting process will take place. In June, the bias system final report will be submitted to Dooley and Williams.
“It’s good work, it’s important work, and I think the collegiality of the group is very strong,” Scott said. “I look forward to our work resulting in some significant changes and ultimately a better campus environment.”