Duke Begins Implementation of Bias And Hate Issue Recommendations

As Duke students returned to campus this past week, one change in the policies governing undergraduate student behavior highlights the ongoing efforts of students, faculty and administrators to address concerns about bias and hate issues at the university.

The new clause in the student conduct policy states that any violation of the policy that is shown to be “motivated in part or whole by race, color, religion, national origin, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, sex, genetic information, or age” will be considered an aggravating factor that increases the stringency of the sanction.

The addition of the clause follows a recommendation of last year’s presidential-appointed Task Force on Bias and Hate, and more action is underway: A new steering committee convened by Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, has already begun studying other recommendations regarding university policies, communications, data collection and curriculum and educational issues.

“We are implementing the recommendations of the task force report,” Moneta said.  “Some of this builds on work we’ve done over the past three years. The aggravating factor clause, we were able to do quickly; other actions are going to be ongoing.”

In an email message sent Tuesday, President Richard H. Brodhead and Provost Sally Kornbluth updated the university committee about what changes had already been implemented following the report. The steering committee will keep the community regularly informed on implementation of the recommendations on the Task Force’s website.

Brodhead and Kornbluth encouraged university members to use the website to follow the progress and to “participate in this conversation so that we can move together toward creating the university we all want.” (To read the text of the email, click here.)

Other steering committee members are: Ben Reese, vice president for institutional equity; Emily Klein, professor of earth sciences and chair of the implementation committee for the Faculty Diversity Report; and Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations.

The bias and hate issue task force, chaired by Professor Linda Burton and Sanford Dean Kelly Brownell, followed a series of university forums in which students expressed concerns about policies, practices and culture on campus. The recommendations from the task force focused not only on student victims of bias and hate incidents, but on educational strategies to build a more respectful living and learning environment, and how to better communicate where students can go if they feel that they are the target of bias or hateful comments or behavior.

Reese said he hopes the implementation effort can follow this approach.

“Our message is free and vigorous debate is essential to our educational values,” Reese said. “We want different viewpoints on controversial topics.  But expressing different opinions about ideas and concepts is very different from issuing hateful and belittling comments about individuals based on their race, ethnicity or other identity characteristics.”

“One of the things students were telling us on the task force is we have to be clear throughout our policies and in our communications that offensive speech that targets particular groups or individuals is inconsistent with our educational values.”

Added Moneta, “The campus discussion about diversity and inclusion is more broad than our particular focus on bias and hate issues. The discussions are related, but it’s not the same agenda.”

Moneta said the process will consider how to apply the recommendations to graduate and professional students, as well as undergraduates.

An advisory committee of faculty, staff and students, and four theme-focused working groups will assist the steering committee. Updates from these groups will be found here.

As with last year’s task force, students will play a crucial role, particularly on the advisory committee, which Moneta described as a “think tank” that will meet regularly and assist both the steering committee and working groups.

Four working groups will have specific focuses:

  • A data group will explore how the university collects and uses data related to bias and hate issue incidents.
  • The communications group will coordinate messaging across the university and ensure that students are able to find appropriate policy and contact information when they need it.
  • The curriculum and faculty group will consider policies that look to minimize hate and bias issues in classrooms, labs and other places of learning.
  • A policy and procedures group will look to develop a campus-wide policy for handling complaints of bias and hate by spring 2017.

The steering committee reports to the Office of the Provost, which has overall responsibility for overseeing policies and practices related to hate and bias issues.