Editorial: addressing bias incidents

Posted by The Editorial Board

The recent string of race-related bias incidents at the College has raised concern amongst members of the campus community. The Office of Student Diversity Programs (OSDP), the Intercultural Center and the administration have worked tirelessly to shift the climate on campus to one of respect and understanding from all students by hosting events, developing the new Inter-Group Relations minor and offering discussion groups. While these methods of approaching a touchy subject have made tremendous strides in the past few semesters, it's sad to see them go in vain amongst some students who continue to commit such reprehensible acts.

Sadly enough, all three parties involved in the recent incidents remain at large. This draws attention to a bigger issue, and one that could deter other instances of vandalism and crime on campus: installation of surveillance cameras.

Installing security cameras is a big step for a small school, and while they might prevent bias incidents from occurring and allow for any perpetrators to be caught, they would also leave many students disgruntled. Two of the three incidents occurred in residence halls-the most private sanctuaries on campus. While installing cameras might be an overreaction to the issue, it does not discount the fact that an alternative solution must be implemented to curtail these acts.

The administration took the right step in drawing attention to the severity of the first two incidents with an email sent out by President Glotzbach on Oct. 25. But vague rhetoric about intolerance of racism and sexism is not enough.

The College's Code of Conduct policy invokes a disciplinary process that handles all violations on a case-by-case basis. While the Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) and Academic Honor Code policies lay out tangible consequences for breaching them, the Social Conduct Policy does not, but simply states: "A student accused of violating the Honor Code or the College Code of Conduct meets with the DoSA [Dean of Student Affairs] to review the complaint and potential avenues for resolution. The complaint may be resolved, deferred, or proceed to a hearing [with the Integrity Board]."

Strict consequences need to be laid out to prevent students from committing these acts. The point system of the AOD policy serves as a great example for a model. If students are aware of the permanent consequences they face when considering such actions (such as a strike on their record that could prevent them from acquiring a job down the line) they might be less inclined to commit them.

The unfortunate truth is that no matter how successful the climate shift on campus is, it can't guarantee a full disposal of racism. It's sad to acknowledge, but there will always be that possibility for bias incidents to occur, just as there will always be racism in the country and in the world. That's just the nature of the beast.

But, at the same time, we can believe and state with confidence that the students responsible for the recent bias incidents do not, in their actions, represent the views and values of the general student community. As a self-selecting private liberal arts institution, we do hold ourselves to a higher standard when it comes to issues of diversity and race. The events held by the OSDP and the formation of the IGR minor have received unprecedented positive feedback. But, considering that they are optional, one might be led to believe that those choosing to participate already have a positive outlook. So, as another method of combating heinous bias incidents, why not try to further implement the facets of IGR and the discussions led by OSDP into the academic realm?

The College holds good intentions by instituting the Non-Western/Cultural Diversity requirement, but when you have four years to fulfill it and courses such as British History get the job done, there comes a concern that the efforts might be too little too late. Even if someone does change their perspective through the requirement, they might wait until their last semester at Skidmore to do so. Why not strengthen our resolve and implement discussions on diversity earlier on?

The fourth credit hour component of the First Year Experience is meant to educate first year students not only on important college matters, but life subjects. However, some professors do not even hold their fourth credit hour regularly, let alone at all.

Peer mentors participate in an 80-minute seminar prior to every fourth credit hour-an amount of time that seems negligible to educate them on important subjects such as race and diversity. Why not bring in a professional to speak to the first year students on the more important topics? If students can open up their minds and shift their outlook earlier on, it would be much more effective in fostering a more positive community.

These discussions do not merely have to be limited to topics such as race and diversity, but can address current events and politics, staying in tune with the liberal arts mantra of keeping students worldly, not just academically well rounded.

While it will take time for the administration to develop new methods of handling bias, and these recent perpetrators may very well remain unpunished, for the time being students should feel obligated to participate in as many OSDP and Intercultural Center events as they can. Recently, the Bias Response Group has invited the College community to join in on a conversation on bias on campus. Attending such events would help to illuminate students on what exactly happens after the bias incident occurs, after the email is sent out.

We commend both groups, as well as the administration and those responsible for starting the IGR minor, for taking steps to raise awareness on campus. We can only hope that members of the campus community will continue to strive towards improving the campus climate.

A link to upcoming events is posted below: 

OSDP Events

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