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Livingston announces: new anti-bias focus group

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On Monday, October 12, Dean Livingston announced the formation of a working group tasked with exploring Carleton’s need for a Bias Incident Response Team (BIRTeam), a group that would address bias incidents on campus and decide “how we generate responses to things that directly impact us, and that need a community response,” according to Dean Livingston.

The working group, which is a mixture of students, faculty, and staff, will work throughout fall term to “explore if [a BIRTeam] is what Carleton needs. And if this is what Carleton needs, then this group will develop a structure for what it will look like, and determine the composition of the team,” said Dean Livingston.

Over the summer, Dean Livingston was approached by students suggesting ways to “build a more inclusive community” on campus, which stimulated discussion about a BIRTeam.

Abhi Lele, senior and member of the working group, was one of the students that approached Dean Livingston over the summer.

“Our feeling was that currently, the college lacks the tools necessary to deal with instances of hate speech, microaggressions, and other oppressive behavior,” he said. “Complaints currently go to the Dean of Students Office, and with all due respect to the Deans, their office is not designed to deal with this,” said Lele.

Lele cited as his motivation an incident last spring, when a member of the community posted offensive material on social media.

“Although last spring was the catalyst, the feeling that the administration needs to do a better job with being anti-racist is something I’ve felt since my freshman year, and has been something felt by many activist groups, including CORAL,” he said.

“I think Carleton needs a BIRTeam,” Sofia Rosales Juarez, ’16, member of the working group, founding member of Alliance, and CSA liaison for the Community Equity Diversity Initiative (CEDI). “Right now there’s no actual process for administrative consequences when people say discriminatory or hateful things,” she said.

She noted that the incident last spring was influential, but said “it’s not just Michael Kane. It’s generations of Carleton students. So there needs to be a system in place, and that’s why we’re figuring it out.”

Dean Livingston, who established a BIRTeam during her time at Emory University, said the working group is open to anyone who “wants to be a part of it,” and will utilize community concern forms, so “members of the community can fill out the form, and it will be re-routed to the chairs of the working group.”

Chaplain Carolyn Fure-Slocum, co-chair of the working group and longtime member of CEDI, said that “there’s a lot of different nuances there that we need to explore [as a working group]. If we were to have a BIRTeam, I think it could help us deal with issues as they arise in a more clear way.”

“We need more of a process and clear definitions” to deal with bias incidents, she said.

According to Chaplain Fure-Slocum, the working group will “start with listening and talking to the whole campus community, whether that’s through individual meetings or public meetings, and then look at what other colleges have done.”

Although the working group has only just been formed, Lele is hopeful about the establishment of a BIRTeam, saying that a team would “really be geared towards making Carleton an inclusive and healthy space.”

“The amount of change that a BIRTeam could have on this campus is immense for students that identify as people of color, or people who are not even sure if they can say something [about a bias incident],” said Rosales Juarez.

The BIRTeam has “been talked about for a long time, but it’s never been talked about to this degree and [the conversation] is going much further than its ever gone before,” said Chaplain Fure-Slocum, who has emphasized that the working group is “coming in with an open mind about these things and wants to listen to the community.”

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