SG urges University to address bias incident policy

Kayla Meyertons

Neo-Nazi rhetoric and anti-Muslim flyers appeared on campus Monday morning, and by Tuesday night, Student Government fast-tracked a resolution urging the University to immediately implement a bias incident policy that has been in the works since last spring.

“The fact that it has taken almost a year for them to make even a little bit of progress is unacceptable,” Student Body President Kevin Helgren said. “The spirit behind tonight’s legislation is to let the administration know that the waiting period is over and that something has to be done within the confines of the law.”

A bias incident constitutes any act of hostility motivated by bias or prejudice towards an individual. Assembly Resolution 21 calls for the immediate release of a bias incident policy by the University, which would institute consequences for bias incidents committed by UT students.

“Marginalized students on this campus — black students, brown students, gay students, trans students — they don’t feel safe,” said Helgren, a psychology and neuroscience senior. “The university has a responsibility to these students … to create a safe and inclusive campus that makes everyone feel welcome, and right now, that’s not being done.”

Helgren said an open forum will be created between students, UT President Greg Fenves and Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly to discuss ways to better respond to these types of incidents. 

Isaiah Carter, government junior and chief of staff, said he hopes the bias incident policy is released tomorrow, so SG can show students that action is being taken by the University.

“For any student of color, for any female, for anyone who is in a marginalized community, you should be upset,” Carter said. “You should be frustrated because the University, in my opinion, is not taking a strong enough stance.”

University-wide representative Ashley Choi said she did not support the resolution because the bias incident policy should have been implemented last spring by the University when it was first conceived.

“This is all a dead-end conversation. Period,” said Choi, internal relations and global studies junior, to the Assembly. “I just think it’s going to be an echo chamber between Student Government and President Fenves because what we’re trying to achieve here, he already did. It’s not practical or tangible at all.”

Choi said she is baffled by the Executive Board’s lack of persistence and consistency, and the University cannot afford for SG to be performative any longer in the face of imminent threats from neo-Nazis and white supremacists on campus.

Helgren said he recognizes the implementation of a bias incident policy is a lukewarm effort at best.

“I get that because we’re a state-funded institution, there are only so many things that we can do legally,” Helgren said. “(But) the opportunities that we as students have, those, those are limitless. Demonstrations, protests, dialogue, forums … If we can’t have these conversations on our campus, where can we?”

Reagins-Lilly, vice president for student affairs, said the policy has been submitted to the UT Policy Advisory Group, who will sample feedback from various student, faculty and staff constituents until Feb. 28, after which the policy will go into its final approval stage. 

“The policy has not prevented us in any way,” Reagins-Lilly said. “It’s going to update our most recent policy that was outdated. We are not failing to respond and care for our students and receive reportable incidents based on this policy.”

Reagins-Lilly said the bias incident policy will be an update to UT’s race relations policy that was implemented in 1999, which states the University condemns all forms of racist behavior, according to the University Policy Office website.