Bias Incident Response

Roger Williams University is a community dedicated to learning. We strive to create an atmosphere of mutual respect that allows RWU community members to live, study, and/or work together in an environment conducive to personal and academic growth. We are committed to providing a safe, healthy, inclusive and just campus community, where students act with honesty, integrity, and civility.

The purpose of this protocol is to ensure that students are aware of their rights, responsibilities, and options when they have experiences that interfere with these values, particularly related to bias. Any student who experiences a bias incident is encouraged to report these incidents to a staff member in the:

Reporting enables the university to support those affected, track bias incidents, collect aggregate data, and to investigate and respond as appropriate. This document outlines the university’s protocol for responding promptly and equitably to bias incidents.

Submit a confidential report of a bias incident

Roger Williams University’s commitment to equity and inclusion

Diversity is embodied in our core values. As stated by President Farish in a 2017 communication to the university community, “as a university we reaffirm the principles that guide us and that form our core values: Racism, anti-Semitism, and all expressions of intolerance and hate are in direct opposition to RWU’s commitment to equality and inclusion, and have no place on our campus.”

We educate students to gain the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in a culturally diverse and global society and to challenge harmful societal norms. Words or actions that contradict RWU’s values of welcoming and valuing all expressions of identity and diversity, and actively promoting inclusion will not be tolerated.

Documents that outline RWU’s commitment to equity and inclusion include:

What constitutes a bias incident?

A bias incident is an act of bigotry, harassment or intimidation toward an RWU student based on the person’s or group’s actual or perceived race, religion, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, genetic information, disability, status as a protected veteran, pregnancy, marital status, or any other category protected by law. It can be an event, image, utterance, or behavior that demeans or degrades an individual or group from a protected category. This could occur physically, verbally, in writing or via social media or electronic means. A bias incident can occur whether the act is intentional or unintentional, and may or may not be a unlawful act.

Examples of bias‐related conduct could include:

  • Jokes that are demeaning to a group of people based on their actual or perceived race, sex, gender identity or expression, disability or other category protected by law.
  • Holding a “date” or “slave” auction
  • Performing a skit in which participants use blackface or other ethnic group makeup or props
  • Hosting a tokenizing culturally themed or “Whites Only” party
  • Assuming characteristics of a minoritized group for advertising
  • Posting flyers or graffiti that contain demeaning or insensitive language or images
Bias Categories

Roger Williams recognizes two categories of bias incidents: localized bias or community bias. All incidents will be reviewed to determine the appropriate response (local or community) and factors that might be considered. An incident does not need to meet all criteria listed to be categorized as bias.

Localized bias incident (i.e, incidents that would warrant a localized response from a member of the university community)

  • Seen or heard by few people (e.g., between roommates, in a small gathering)
  • No violation of university policy or laws
  • Biased material was contained to those involved
  • May not constitute a hate crime under governing law

An example of a bias incident that may warrant a localized response is a racist joke told in a residence hall room.

Community bias incident (incidents that may warrant a RWU community response based on the community impact):

  • Seen or heard by many
  • Violates university policy
  • Media and/or interest from outside the university community
  • Can be investigated as a hate crime

An example of a bias incident that may warrant a community response could be a banner hung in the Commons with homophobic slurs written on it.

We will respond in a timely, sensitive, and professional manner to all reported incidents of bias. It is also important not to label an incident too quickly. The following questions should be considered in determining whether or not an incident is bias related:

  • Does the behavior demean or degrade an individual or group based on the person’s or group’s actual or perceived social identity?
  • Does the incident appear to be bias motivated?
  • Does it violate university policy?
  • Does it violate the shared values and expectations of university community members?
  • Who is affected by the incident?
  • Are there potential legal consequences?
  • Might the incident be investigated as a hate crime?
Impact of bias incidents

The effect of bias incidents or hate crimes can be more distinct and harmful compared to other crimes or improper acts because the attack is based on membership in an identity group as opposed to any individual trait or behavior. The additional pain and significance of the event in the victim’s life takes on added dimensions, including:

  • a lingering sense of fear and vulnerability
  • a reactionary response such as action or bias against the perpetrator’s group
  • a feeling of an inability to prevent future attacks
  • severe emotional and psychological impacts
  • symbolic reinforcement of the legitimacy of the discrimination
  • a loss of importance and self-worth, for both the victim and the victim’s group
  • inability to concentrate, study, sleep or engage in academic work
  • distrust of others, social isolation

How to report an incident

If a situation requires an immediate response and/or is an emergency, call Public Safety at 401-254-3333 or dial 911.

When a student in the RWU community believes they have been subject to a bias incident or hate crime, they should immediately bring the concern to:

Private or anonymous reports can be made online

If you come upon vandalism, graffiti or a bias incident:

  • Check-in with the victim(s) and call or refer for assistance as needed
  • Contact Public Safety or, if in a residence hall, the CORE or the professional staff in the Department of Residence Life and Housing. If deemed appropriate or upon the victim’s request, the staff will call the appropriate local authorities and Public Safety or the student life staff member will take photos.
  • Do not remove evidence or attempt to clean up the area until directed by Public Safety, student life staff, or the police. Facilities staff will be contacted if cleaning is needed.
  • If possible, assist Public Safety or residence life staff to keep the area contained or to respond to others in the area as needed and is appropriate.

Reporting guidelines:

All non-emergency bias incidents should be reported using the following guidelines:

Privacy and confidentiality:

Roger Williams University is committed to preserving a student’s privacy. Under certain circumstances, some information may need to be shared with other university departments in order to assist the student, provide for safety, or provide for the safety of the campus community. The counseling center and the University Chaplain are confidential resources.

How the University will respond:

RWU is committed to stopping and responding to biased behaviors. Some bias incidents may violate the Student Code of Conduct and may be adjudicated through the student conduct system. Law students may also face consequences under the School of Law Honor Code. Behavior that is discriminatory or otherwise hurtful to members of the community is also addressed through educational interventions. Because some incidents may be beyond the reach of this policy, it is imperative that the University respond as a unified community to denounce such behavior. Acts of intolerance require all members of the university community to uphold the shared values.

Regardless of whether incidents violate policy or are inappropriate or insensitive, it is crucial that RWU responds in a timely, sensitive, and consistent manner. All parties involved‐‐ those who report such incidents as well as those accused ‐‐ will be treated with respect, consideration, and concern. Those involved will be given the opportunity to discuss the incident with a trained professional and will be apprised of their options for resolving the incident.

Response is driven by the determination of the incident as a localized or community bias incident.

The AVP/Dean of Student Life or designee will:

  • Ensure the incident is documented within a secure reporting system (i.e., PAVE)
  • Consult with appropriate members of the university community and/or Bias Response Team as determined by the nature of the incident.
  • Ensure the student is provided appropriate support resources and a plan is put in place for follow up as needed
  • Discuss privacy and confidentiality issues with the student(s)
  • Discuss options for resolution and repairing harm
  • Discuss process of adjudication with reporting student(s)
  • Provide phone numbers for the reporting student to call in an emergency
  • Make additional referrals to counseling, medical care, student conduct, police, etc.
  • Refer the incident for investigation to further determine appropriate response:
    • Roger Williams University Public Safety
    • Threat Assessment Team
    • Local Law Enforcement
    • Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution
    • Bias Response Team
    • Academic Affairs
    • School of Law
    • School of Continuing Studies

Support, inquiry, and advice are available in the following offices:

  • AVP/Dean of Student Life, Center for Student Development
  • Office of Student Conduct & Conflict Resolution, Center for Student Development
  • Director of Student & Family Assistance, Center for Student Development
  • Department of Residence Life and Housing, Center for Student Development (Residential students)
  • Chief Diversity Officer, Administration Building
  • Public Safety
  • Title IX Coordinator, Center for Student Development
  • Chaplain and Director of Spiritual Life, Center for Student Development
  • Counseling Center, Center for Student Development
  • School of Law: Director of Diversity & Outreach and Assistant Dean of Students
  • School of Continuing Studies, Associate Dean
  • Center for Student Academic Success (CSAS), Library

Response is driven by the two categories of bias‐related incidents. All incidents will be reviewed to determine the appropriate response based on these factors:

Localized Bias Incident = Localized Response

Incidents that are localized or contained within a limited area of campus and seen or heard by a limited number of people. (i.e., occurring within a limited area of campus, such as a residence hall bathroom),

For a localized bias‐related incident the administrator closest to the incident will address the issue, and in consultation with the Director of Student Conduct or AVP/Dean of Student Life (or other appropriate administrator), facilitate a response that resonates with the student or group of students involved, and issue a community statement if appropriate

Community Bias Incident = Community Response

Incidents that are widely known and/or violate policy will be processed by a Bias Response Team assembled based on the nature and location of the incident.

For a community bias‐related incident, the Bias Response Team will determine if the incident can be considered a crime and whether a message from university administration is appropriate. This Bias Response Team will be called together as soon as feasible when reports are shared with the AVP/Dean of Student Life.

Additional Information

Bias Response Team

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The Bias Response Team acts as the college’s first response team in addressing reported bias incidents. All reported bias incidents will be referred to the AVP/Dean of Students who will make an initial determination of whether the matter should be referred to the entire Bias Response Team for review. Members of the team will be chosen based on the nature of the incident. The following individuals or their designees could serve on the Bias Response Team:

  • AVP/Dean of Student Life - Chairperson
  • Director of Public Safety
  • Chief Diversity Officer
  • Director of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution
  • Director of Media and Public Relations
  • Director of the Intercultural Center
  • Associate Dean and Director of Residence Life and Housing
  • Director of Spiritual Life
  • Associate Dean of Student Success
  • School of Law Dean of Students
  • School of Continuing Studies Associate Dean
  • Title IX Coordinator
  • Member of Department where the incident occurred
  • Academic Dean or Faculty Member
  • Student(s) targeted
  • Student organization targeted
  • Others deemed appropriate based on the nature of the incident

Examples of the steps that the Bias Response Team may take:

  • Determine the need for temporary or permanent change in housing (if residing in campus housing)
  • Address retaliation concerns
  • Determine if interim measures are needed while an incident is investigated
  • Make a recommendation to the VP of Student Life or President that a community alert or statement is appropriate
  • Report incident to local authorities
  • Determine if/what disciplinary action is appropriate
  • Provide regular status reports to reporting student(s) until case is closed
  • Designate an administrator for follow‐up
  • Implement appropriate restorative justice techniques or methods if all parties involved in the incident are agreeable
  • Explore educational opportunities for the larger community (e.g., campus dialogue, programs, vigils, policy or procedure changes, interim actions)

Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression

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Roger Williams University values the free exchange of ideas. As a university we have the opportunity and responsibility to provide learning experiences that allow for differing points of view to be raised and discussed in a respectful manner to facilitate students’ development of well-considered positions of their own. We strive to find ways to discuss and dispute differences respectfully. Actions and words used in the context of the academic curriculum and teaching environment that serve legitimate and reasonable educational purposes will not be evaluated as bias incidents because of the principles underlying academic freedom. This protocol does not restrict academic freedom, protected speech, or lawful protest.

We are challenged to balance our inherent commitment to these values with the reality that there are those whose goal it is to inflame, provoke, and to incite violence. It is imperative that we separate the exercise of the freedom of speech from the initiation or instigation of hate speech, bias, and violence. Violence is NOT protected by the First Amendment, and neither is incitement to riot. Free speech provisions protect many forms of intolerant statements, expressions, and conduct, but as a private university, we may choose to limit speech that does not align with our values.

What constitutes a hate crime?

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Not all bias incidents are hate crimes.

Rhode Island General Laws 42-28-46, defines a hate crime as “any crime motivated by bigotry and bias including, but not limited to threatened, attempted, or completed acts that appear after investigation to have been motivated by racial, religious, ethnic, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression or disability prejudice.”

The Rhode Island Hate Crimes Sentencing Act (Section 12-19-38) provides enhanced penalties when a person has been convicted of a crime in which they selected the victim or selected the property that is damaged because of the “hatred or animus toward the actual or perceived disability, religion, color, race, national origin or ancestry, sexual orientation, or gender” of the victim or owner or occupant of the property.

Campus notification of bias incidents

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Some incidents will not result in public disclosure. The Bias Response Team will take into account:

  • Wishes of the reporting student(s)
  • Wishes of the targeted organization
  • Whether a case is under police investigation
  • Confidentiality due to the specific situation
  • Difficulty in identifying the perpetrator(s)
  • Whether the incident is localized or community-based
  • FERPA considerations

A bias incident notice may be issued for community-based incidents if:

  • The incident occurred on campus and has an impact on the community
  • There may be continued threat to an individual or the community

A bias incident notice may include:

  • A brief description of the incident with non-identifying language in order to protect the identity of those targeted.
  • Information or description of the perpetrator still at large.
  • Information about a campus contact where community members can report additional information related to the incident.

Communication:

  • All-university and all-student e-mail is the vehicle for circulating a bias incident notice
  • In addition, information on hate incidents may be included in safety alerts from Public Safety

Achieving bias‐free communication

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Language is constantly evolving, especially language around identities. While there is no ultimate or exclusive list of accurate word choices, language is powerful and should be used purposefully, thoughtfully and with an understanding that we come from different understandings of language.

  • Be aware of words, images, and situations that suggest all or most of a group are the same.
  • Stereotypes often lead to assumptions that are unsupportable and offensive.
  • Avoid qualifiers that reinforce stereotypes. A qualifier is added information that suggests an exception to what is expected.
  • Identify people by characteristics only when relevant. Few situations require such identification.
  • Be aware of language that has questionable racial, ethnic, class, or sexual orientation connotations.
  • While a word or phrase may not be personally offensive to you, it may be to others.
  • Avoid patronizing language and tokenism toward any group.
  • Substitute substantive information for ethnic clichés.
  • Review language, images, and other forms of communication to make sure all groups are fairly represented
  • Talk with trusted colleagues and supervisors about questions you may have regarding behaviors and language that may be deemed bias and determine the appropriate resources to vet continued questions