Last spring, a conversation between Student Government, marginalized students and administrators was in the works to implement a University-wide hate and bias incident policy, and on Wednesday morning, this policy was released.
In a message to the University, University President Gregory Fenves announced the effective implementation of a new hate and bias incident policy establishing punishments for any hateful or discriminatory action on campus.
The policy clearly outlined definitions of actual violent conduct, harassment, threatened violent conduct and verbal harassment, as well as ways for students and faculty to report any form of harassment to the Office of the Dean of Students.
“Certainly the president wouldn’t approve and we wouldn’t distribute a policy we weren’t proud of and ... felt was our best effort to hear and to listen to voices and to incorporate national trends,” Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly said.
According to the policy, the University prohibits “unlawful harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity or gender expression, age, disability, citizenship, veteran status, sexual orientation, ideology, political views or political affiliation.” Students in violation of the policy may be subject to suspension from campus and attending class, as well as a change to their status as a student, and faculty may be disciplined or fired.
A town hall meeting was held Feb. 22 between UT administrators and students in which audience members expressed their fears, criticisms and frustrations with the University’s response to recent bias incidents seen on campus, including neo-Nazi posters and anti-Muslim propaganda.
“One immediate change (after the town hall) was to include hate in the title,” Reagins-Lilly said. “Through listening and hearing, hate was a word that we needed to include.”
On Feb. 14, SG passed a resolution to the Office of the Dean of Students to implement a bias incident policy on campus.
Student Body President Kevin Helgren said the policy is a necessary step in the right direction, but by no means is a final solution to hate and bias incidents on campus.
“The release and implementation of this hate and bias incident policy is not the beginning ... and it certainly isn’t the end,” Helgren, a psychology and neuroscience senior, said. “One student who feels unsafe on our campus is one student too many.”
Government junior Isaiah Carter, SG Chief of Staff, said he thought the hate and bias incident policy was a little lukewarm in regards to addressing the real issues students are facing on campus.
“One of the biggest debates we are having on campus right now is what type of speech is appropriate and what type of speech is not appropriate,” Carter said. “I would hope that as the years progress that the bias incident policy will be able to provide very clear examples or definitions of the type of speech that is tolerated and the type of speech that is not tolerated.”
The hate and bias incident policy is subject to revision at the discretion of the University, which regularly evaluates all policies, and administrators plan to keep the conversation with students and faculty open, Reagins-Lilly said.
According to the policy, any individual may report a hate or bias incident to the Dean of Students, the Office for Inclusion and Equity, the Campus Climate Response Team or to any University official, administrator or supervisor.