Team responds to bias incidents

In 2016, a team formed to respond to noncriminal campus incidents that may include harassment, discrimination or bias. The campus climate response team (CCRT), coordinated by Nora Ryan, inclusion services coordinator in the office of equal opportunity, now includes a dozen members representing several units. It fielded more than 50 incident reports during the fall semester.

How to report an incident

How it works

Anyone can report an incident -- students, staff, faculty, visitors and community members. Reports can be about incidents that happen on campus or off-campus incidents that involve someone affiliated with Iowa State. Responses are almost immediate, Ryan said, and put into motion with the team.

"If we have contact information -- a name or email, for example -- there's always an outreach," Ryan said. "We say within two business days, but it's always sooner -- it's immediate, really."

Margo Foreman, assistant vice president for diversity and inclusion and equal opportunity, said CCRT members see all of the reports. The team assesses the incident, determines the appropriate lead(s) to handle the response and communicates next steps.

"CCRT is a team-based approach across campus. I really want us to hold a triage role for reporting," Foreman said. "We're always trying to make sure that we're consistent with the suggestions and advice that is given."

If information in a report points to serious misconduct, Foreman said an equal opportunity (EO) investigation could be more appropriate.

"A lot of times, our outreach is for people who want to be heard -- they'll be given the options and resources available to them," Foreman said. "Sometimes it needs more corrective steps, and sometimes we realize this really is an EO issue that rises to the level of investigation."

Responses are determined on a case-by-case basis. Foreman and Ryan both said empowering individuals to change the culture is a high priority.

Common reports

Incidents are classified by how they occur, for example, digital (email, social media) and verbal methods, or vandalism, which Ryan said is the top classification being reported. Most reports come from student affairs units. Messages left on whiteboards in residence halls and unauthorized flyers posted in/on campus buildings are common offenses.

"The most prominent issue we're seeing across campus is white supremacy propaganda," Ryan said. "Race and ethnicity are targeted most, followed by sexual orientation and gender identity."

Foreman said individuals who report incidents are grateful to have someone listen and care about what they have to say.

"That's the No. 1 thing I hear from individuals who do say yes to an outreach," Ryan said. "The fact that someone took time to listen to their experience and discuss strategies for addressing the issue -- especially from the university's administration. That can be really empowering."

Reporting, made easier

In August, a dedicated campus climate website went live with information about the response team, frequently asked questions and an online form to report incidents. Campus resources, including policies, also are provided.

A custom database system tracks the details, progress and outcomes of reported incidents. Ryan already has seen an increase in reporting as word spreads about CCRT and its resources. But that is not a negative, Foreman insists.

"When we do see the growth (in reports), people should not be alarmed," Foreman said. "We have problems, whether people know or not, and we need to be able to address them. What we're doing is collecting information and addressing the hurts as they're happening."

"Although we cannot always identify respondents, and CCRT incidents often don't rise to the level of a full investigation by the EO team, it's still vital that we know that these things are occurring and those affected are provided resources," Ryan said. "The data are powerful for painting that picture to departments and the administration about where we can target our outreach and education efforts."

Born of necessity

"The group itself came out of meetings we had earlier that spring to talk about how to respond to campus climate impacts," Foreman said. "We were in the middle of a political campaign cycle that was different than we had experienced and wanted to get ahead of how to productively respond when that cycle impacted the campus."

Foreman said vice president for diversity and inclusion Reg Stewart brought the idea for the task force to student affairs, where incidents are most commonly reported. The CCRT dovetails with Stewart's work as chair of a committee tasked with implementing Goal 4 of the university's strategic plan: "Continue to enhance and cultivate the ISU Experience where faculty, staff, students and visitors are safe and feel welcomed, supported, included and valued by the university and each other."