Campus News

Hate and bias reports often do not get follow-ups, leading to few sanctions

The Division of Student Life takes an educational approach when dealing with incidents of hate and bias, informing students of how their actions impact others.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

With reported hate crimes on UW-Madison’s campus increasing from two in 2015 to twenty in 2016, reports of hate and bias on campus have resulted in surprisingly few sanctions.

In fact, the Spring 2017 Bias Incidents and Reports Summary from the Dean of Students Office revealed that 15 percent of those who filed a bias report were anonymous reporters, and just 34 percent of reporters asked for action or follow-up from the university relating to their incident.

This is not unusual, according to Bias Response Coordinator Satya Chima.

Chima, who handles all bias reports filed to the Dean of Students Office, said this happens “fairly frequently” because, in some of these cases, students do not know who the suspect is and think a meeting would not accomplish much. Some students, she said, just simply want the university to know an incident happened.

Mariah Skenandore, co-president of the indigenous student organization Wunk Sheek, was one such student who filed an anonymous report.

Skenandore said that although she felt the need to report the incident she experienced, she reported it anonymously because she did not think she could contribute any additional information about the incident. Additionally, she said she would rather just alert the university to the issue.

Some cases require further action

Some students, however, do request a university follow-up.

According to Chima, once she receives a bias incident report that includes contact information, she reaches out to the student affected to arrange a “support meeting.”

During the meeting, the student can explain their situation and get connected to resources that make them feel “supported and safe.” If the “respondent,” the person alleged to have instigated the incident, is known, the Division of Student Life will contact them for their side of the story.

Chima said the division takes an “educational” response when dealing with respondents. She said her division does not deal with disciplinary issues, but rather intends to inform the respondent about how their behavior has affected the reporter and the community.

“If there is an educational moment to be had, an opportunity for growth, then I will always try to engage with that,” Chima said. “When I’ve had those conversations with students, they go really well.”

Skenandore echoed these sentiments, explaining that when she filed yet another hate and bias report earlier this year after one of her professors “responded poorly” to a negative comment about natives, Chima and the Dean of Students Office was quick to respond.

“I thought it was really nice that they reached back out and let me know that my report was [acknowledged],” she said. “It is important to know that people aren’t exhausting their energy with these reports for no reason.”

In fact, Skenandore had a meeting with Chima and her professor, during which her professor was “super helpful and apologetic.” She now meets with her professor each week to talk about her experience in class and arrange independent study assignments when lecture material may be “triggering” to her.

“[Chima] will actually reach out to me periodically to check in and make sure things are still going well in the class,” Skenandore said. “This process has been super helpful, and [Chima] has been so responsive.”

Cases involving conduct violations are referred

Since the Division of Student Life does not handle disciplinary actions but rather provides emotional support, all bias complaints that allege behavior in violation of student conduct policy are referred to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards.

According to the Spring 2017 report, just two of the 74 bias-related incidents were put through the non-academic misconduct process.

One of the two students was found in violation of non-academic misconduct, though the university did not release which sanction — a university reprimand, probation, suspension or expulsion — this student faced for fear of revealing the student’s identity. None of the incidents were found to be hate crimes.

Tonya Schmidt, the director of the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, attributed the low number of misconduct incidents again to the number of students requesting university intervention. Although Schmidt said that students often do not request additional contact because they are unsure of who the suspect is, the office does encourage students with information to come forward.

“These are really sensitive situations, and we want them to have some power and control over the choices they make,” Schmidt said. “We want people to tell us these things happen, but we don’t want to force them to give us more information and go through a process they are not interested in.”

Chima said although the spring’s numbers have been on par with other semesters, she thinks many incidents on campus go unreported.

“I think the campus always has work to do, and I think the division knows that,” Chima said. “We need more people reporting and coming forward with their stories if they feel safe and comfortable enough to do so.”

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