Bias and Hate Issue Task Force Moving Forward With Working Groups

The new Task Force on Bias and Hate Issues has a message for Duke students concerned about campus climate: We want to hear about, make sure we understand, and work hard to address your experiences. 

The Task Force co-chairs Linda Burton, dean of social sciences and James B. Duke professor of sociology, and Kelly Brownell, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy, updated the Academic Council Thursday on the efforts of the 27-member panel, which began its work in January.

Composed of 10 undergraduate and graduate students and 17 faculty members and administrators, the panel was charged by President Richard Brodhead to review institutional policies and procedures relative to any hate and bias behaviors and practices occurring on campus that might marginalize students of color, women and other groups. 

Beyond examining institutional rules, Burton emphasized that the task force aims to ensure students that faculty and administrators are listening intently to their concerns and addressing them as a critically important part of their Duke education. 

She said the university has a “commitment to train students not only in academics but to be incredible contributors to society. We want students to know bias and hate when they see it and how to be proactive and/or best respond to it.”

The task force has already created six working groups charged with specific assignments: Best practices at other institutions; communication and outreach to student groups; data collection and surveys on relevant issues; legal rulings concerning speech and hate issues; listening tours of students groups to gather experiences and stories; and a “prevention, learning and resources” group designed to “explore the psychology of bias and hate issues to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment,” Burton said.

The task force is also focusing its work on four questions involving student life and academics:

  • What are Duke’s practices regarding bias and hate issue and are they adequate?
  • Should Duke establish a policy for all students that prohibits or specifically punishes certain expression of bias and hate?
  • What actions can be taken to prevent bias and hate incidents?
  • What actions can be taken to aid students experiencing “micro-aggressions” -- daily episodes of, for example, nuanced discrimination, that accumulate to the extent they marginalize and adversely affect students’ well-being?

Brownell told faculty that the review won’t be limited to those issues covered by current harassment policies. “We will evaluate these, but also look at micro-aggressions in daily life that don’t cross this policy threshold but still affect people in their accumulation,” he said.

In addition to the listening tour, the task force will collect accounts by other means. A new website will shortly go live and provide links to resources for the Duke community as well as serve as a place where students can contribute ideas and information.

The co-chairs said they expect the report to be completed by mid-April, but the committee anticipates institutional practices and assessments that continue thereafter.

Brodhead told the faculty that he had great confidence in the task force’s work and noted that everyone he asked to participate agreed. The students are an important part of the committee and are providing significant input into the discussions, he said.

“We know that it’s important that the task force be transparent in our work,” Burton said. “It’s our goal that between the listening tour, the website and other input from the Duke community we’ll be transparent about what we are doing, questions we are considering and instill in the community trust and confidence in our efforts.”

In other news, the faculty approved a proposed Duke-NUS joint PhD in integrated biology & medicine and renaming a graduate degree program in the Department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies to an MA in Digital Art History/Computational Media. Both will go before the Board of Trustees for final approval.

The council also heard a proposal to give the Franklin Humanities Institute the authority to hire non-tenure track regular rank faculty. Currently the institute depends on faculty with primary appointments in other departments. Three of the university’s other institutes have the authority to independently hire regular rank faculty.

The proposal, which comes at a time of faculty discussion about the increase in the number of non tenure-track regular rank faculty, will get a final council vote in March.