UT Campus Climate Response Team address issues of bias

Jordan Rudner

When a student sees derogatory graffiti on campus, Ryan Miller hopes to hear about it in his inbox. 

Miller, associate director of Campus Diversity and Strategic Initiatives and an educational administration graduate student, is one of three lead team members behind the Campus Climate and Response Team. The team, which was publicly launched in March 2012, helps connect students who report incidents of bias with resources and gathers information about campus culture. 

The Campus Climate and Response Team is composed of 12 administrators who represent various departments involved in bias incidents, including administrators from the Gender and Sexuality Center, the Multicultural Engagement Center and UT Police Department officers. 

Miller said his team receives roughly 15 to 20 reports per month during the fall and spring semesters, and those reports typically involve incidents including derogatory graffiti, verbal harassment and slurs or parties with racial or otherwise derogatory themes. He said the team will occasionally hear reports of assaults coupled with slurs and social media harassment on UT course-specific Facebook pages.

Miller said reports of policy violations require contacting legal authorities or another appropriate sources within the administration, but other demonstrations of bias suggest a need for education.

“What we’re trying to do at CCRT involves a balancing act,” Miller said. “We protect free speech and defend that right, but we also value an inclusive environment where all students and employees can be productive and learn and work free from discrimination.”

Sherri Sanders, associate vice president for Campus Diversity and Strategic Initiatives, serves as a liaison between the lead team and as vice president for diversity and community engagement. Sanders said she feels the personalized nature of the response team is part of what makes it a valuable resource. 

“This is a large institution, and a complex one,” Sanders said. “Oftentimes, people don’t know where to go to report an incident, but they also don’t have the chance to connect with the institution. The CCRT gives people a place to go.” 

Despite the team’s efforts, Miller said he and the team are aware they do not have a comprehensive picture of bias incidents on campus. 

“We know bias incidents of all kind are underreported,” Miller said. “This isn’t just an issue for UT. It’s an issue for higher education nationally, and for society as a whole. We are trying to build trust and encourage people to report the things they experience.” 

Miller also said measuring the success of the team’s anti-bias efforts can be difficult. 

“There are several different ways to measure success, but I don’t know that any of them are adequate,” Miller said. “We’re working to create a more inclusive campus climate, where everyone feels like they have a place at the table. That’s a process more than a goal, but it’s certainly something we’re hoping to address.” 

Plan II freshman Matt Green said he has not heard of the response team, but is glad such a resource exists. 

“I’m not at all familiar with a bias hotline,” Green said, “but I do think it’s very important to have something like that — even though I haven’t experienced any bias myself, other people certainly might have.”

Published on March 18, 2013 as "Team responds to reports of bias, derogatory slurs".