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Facing lack of support, plans for BIRT cancelled

<st Friday, Dean Carolyn Livingston sent out an email announcing that she would not be moving forward with the Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT) Working Group.
Livingston created the BIRT Working Group in October 2015 to look into whether a Bias Incident Response Team should be established on campus. The team would would have sought resolution for student-to-student incidents of bias.

“I think that everyone agrees that it’s a challenge. We do have bias incidents on campus, and we are not satisfied with how they are handled or the process. In terms of what the future looked like, if a team was the right and proper response to that, I don’t think everyone agreed on that. And to me whenever there is not a general consensus, we need to pause and say: ‘How do we get consensus, or do we need to do something else?’ I like to pause when I think that we can do something better,” Livingston explained of her decision.

When asked if there was a divide in opinion between faculty, staff or students Livingston said she believed “there was divide overall.”
Livingston expressed the multiple perspectives and concerns of community members on campus: “The pros were, there was a group that could handle all of these types of requests, who could bring about some level of consistency and transparency to this process, and it would be community-wide.

“I think the cons included what’s the right definition for bias. Community groups from faculty, staff and students said: ‘What is this ‘bias?’ And if we can’t sort of narrow down a definition that everyone agrees upon than how do we work from that? All of our other policies and processes have definitions,” Livingston said. Another concern that the community raised about the team was: “How does this intersect or interact with academic freedom?”

Livingston introduced the possibility of BIRT last year and created the working group to explore the challenges and questions surrounding the introduction of a bias incident response team.

“I charged them with coming up with a plan that would address if there was a need for [the team] and what was the community consensus around it. I thought they did a really good job of background exploring, but I don’t think the community consensus was there,” Livingston said.

Livingston explained that she created the team after a specific bias tweet from a community member. The tweet was posted on Overheard at Carleton as a screenshot on May 1, 2015. The tweet, which caused a strong negative reaction on campus, read: “Cops shoulda shot those ghetto [expletive] rioters. Time to get rid of these worthless ‘people’. #purge.”

“The tweet happened before I came,” said Livingston. “The tweet happened that spring, and I came that summer, and it was because students had emailed me over the summer saying: ‘Hey, will you think about having a BIRT team here,’ or ‘could you just create one.’ …The entire motivator for the working group was just student request–students who felt pretty marginalized because of that tweet,” Livingston said.

The reaction to the tweet on campus started a series of conversations revolving around how these issues should be handled and how the administration should respond. Livingston said this event and its campus reaction was what many people emailed her about when she began her job.

The working group, which was chaired by Chaplain Carolyn Fure-Slocum ’82, Thomas Hiura ’17 and Abhimanyu Lele ’16, produced two draft proposals for a potential BIRT. The group also solicited responses from the college community through online forms and a town hall meeting last year. The working group submitted its  final response May 26, 2016, which supported creating a BIRT. In their final report, the working group concluded that “there is a need for clarifying guidelines to address student-to-student incidents that occur outside of the classroom in a fair, transparent and sensitive manner.”

Last week, Livingston announced she will not be pursuing BIRT at this time, citing lack of campus support. Livingston expressed that conversations about addressing bias incidents on campus would continue, stressing multiple times that this was a pause not an end of the process.

She does not currently know what will take the place of BIRT. “The Working Group met from October until June last year. They put a lot of time in, and I’m not going to come up with something overnight. So I think the pause is: ‘Let’s regroup’. Incidents are still happening on campus, and they are still happening nationally. I don’t think there is a silver answer to how they are addressed, but we do have some time to pause.”

Livingston did express that if anyone has any ideas she is open to talk about any suggestions.

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