On Monday, the University of Texas at Austin Campus Climate Response Team released its second annual Campus Climate Trend Report detailing bias incidents reported during the 2013-2014 school year. Just as in the previous year, bias related to race/ethnicity tops the list in terms of types of bias reported, followed by reports citing sexual orientation and gender. The trend report also presents data about two high-profile bias incidents on campus and the role of social and digital media in bias reporting.
Like hate crimes and sexual assault, bias incidents are grossly underreported, which we believe makes trend reports like these all the more important. The annual report is published in the spirit of transparency and is meant to help us understand the nature of bias occurring at UT Austin. In doing so, we can better address bias on campus through policy and programming.
In addition to gathering data about bias incidents at UT Austin, which it has done since its inception in 2012, the CCRT responds to reports of bias affecting the campus community through a University-wide committee. The CCRT is not a disciplinary or judicial body. Instead, we work to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for all students, faculty, staff and visitors by connecting them to resources for support when bias incidents occur. We serve as a volunteer committee composed of staff across the University, and we initially respond to reports of bias made in person, by phone and through our website within two business days.
Bias incidents at many universities — including ones targeting students of color and the LGBT community, investigations of racial and ethnic discrimination and reports of exclusion based on gender or disability — have brought national attention to the subject of the social climate on many campuses. Bias incidents are defined by a range of behaviors, including threats, degrading language, slurs, harassment and verbal or physical assault. Often overlooked in this spectrum of bias are microaggressions: brief, everyday exchanges that disparage or malign a marginalized group.
Women, people of color, religious minorities, people with disabilities, immigrants and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals are frequent targets of this kind of bias. Microaggressions often contain hidden or overt messages that stereotype others, serving to devalue a person or group even when it is not the speaker’s intention to do so. (One example is when an individual uses the term “gay” to describe a movie that they did not like. The hidden message: Being gay is associated with negative characteristics.)
Microaggressions may read as friendly banter or harmless jokes to some. But to the targets of such statements, the subtext of these messages can be devastating. Feeling unwelcome or excluded, they may search for and associate larger meaning with these incidents and feel anger, anxiety and exhaustion, thereby creating the sense of an unwelcoming or even hostile environment for these individuals.
Our University has always been dedicated to the principles free speech and free expression. Yet realizing the consequences of our speech and actions on others is also the responsible thing to do for our campus community and benefits us all. Research shows that discriminatory environments can significantly influence the educational outcomes and productivity of students, faculty, administrators and staff. Words matter, and for all of us to assume an attitude of respect toward others is, we believe, an important step in helping UT Austin fulfill its core values and “serve as a catalyst for positive change in Texas and beyond.”
The annual trend report is evidence that UT Austin is not immune to bias — nor could it be, given that bias is a much larger cultural issue. But we can help foster a more inclusive, welcoming environment here at UT Austin, and the most effective way to achieve that environment is when each of us takes a role in making it happen. The CCRT is committed to supporting those who experience bias at UT-Austin, and we entreat all campus community members to adopt a personal pledge to make every Longhorn welcome, both in word and in deed.