College Begins Redesigning Bias Reporting System

Spurred by racially charged emailed death threats that hundreds of students received last semester, the College is beginning the process of redesigning its current bias reporting system, according to Emelyn A. dela Peña, the College’s assistant dean of student life for equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Two committees, one focusing on the community response aspect and one focusing on bias reporting infrastructure, will lead the process for changing the system beginning before spring break, dela Peña said.

“We know that something needs to change; we know that our current system is incomplete,” dela Peña added. “When the email threats happened, we realized that the current bias reporting system we had was really designed for one-on-one interaction… but we didn’t have a mechanism for reporting something that happened to hundreds of people at the same time from one person who was not even a part of the College.”

Among the potential changes are the creation of an email address and website to increase students’ access to bias reporting resources and the ability to anonymously report an incident, according to dela Peña.

However, dela Peña cautioned that the process will take time so that the College can figure out how to be responsible with the anonymous information it receives, including the possible legal implications that accompany it.

The process will begin with a meeting of faculty, students, and staff who will meet as a team before spring break through the end of this semester. They will then discuss designing a committee that will respond to incidents of bias that addresses both the immediate community that was targeted, as well as Harvard affiliates at large.

Community Conversation: Racist Emails
Concerned students gathered for a community conversation in Holden Chapel on Oct. 8, 2014, in response to a string of threatening emails that predominantly targeted Asian-American women last fall.

The recommendations for how to constitute that permanent “community building” committee will likely be released this fall, according to dela Peña, though administrators hope the committee will continue to meet monthly.

The redesign of the formal bias reporting system will begin with meetings later this semester, and will also be lead by a team of students, faculty, and staff. However, that team will likely release their recommendations by next spring and will dissolve afterwards, dela Peña said.

“Creating new infrastructure for the College, it’s kind of a big deal,” dela Peña added. “We also want to do our due diligence in terms of before we roll out a complete system that we have the buy in of the students that will be using it.”

Undergraduate Council President Ava Nasrollahzadeh '16 said she has not yet been contacted specifically about the redesign of the College's bias reporting procedures. Still, she said there would be benefits to having a UC representative sit on the committees outlining the changes.
 
With the changes still yet to be designed and implemented, Nasrollahzadeh said she hopes the community outreach aspect will include outreach not only to individual students, but to student cultural groups as well.

—Staff writer Ivan B. K. Levingston can be reached at Ivan.Levingston@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @IvanLevingston.

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