October 1, 2001

Panel Explains Bias Response

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Just over a dozen members of the Cornell community met last Friday to examine bias-related incidents of the past to prevent these activities from occurring in the future.

The event — which was open to students, faculty and staff — drew only two students to Anabel Taylor Hall for the panel discussion and “proactive” dialogue.

The Office of Workforce Diversity, Equity and Life Quality tried to reach out to students by handing out fliers on campus and placing an ad in The Sun.

Lynette Chappell-Williams, director of the Workforce Diversity, Equity and Life Quality office, blamed scheduling conflicts for the low student turnout.

“We knew that scheduling Friday afternoon, it would be tough [to attract students],” Chappell-Williams said. “We didn’t want to be disrespectful to the Jewish holidays” which fell earlier in the week, she explained.

During the panel discussion, Chappell-Williams explained that the Bias Prevention program grew out of response to 1998 racially-biased incidents in University dorms. In 1999, the program brought awareness to residence halls, expanding to include all University divisions the following year.

Friday’s discussion marked the first open Bias Prevention meeting; another meeting is planned for next semester.

“There’s still opportunity for follow-up,” Chappell-Williams said after the event.

During the meeting, Gwendolyn Dean, coordinator of the LGBTQ resource center, explained the procedures Cornell has enacted in order to handle bias-related incidents.

Victims are contacted within 24 hours of entering a complaint by one of the Bias Team Reporting members, who submit an anonymous form to the Bias Response Committee to determine the appropriate the follow-up.

“I don’t think we can compare the figures right now because we haven’t had the program in place long enough,” Dean said, in response to a participant’s question about whether bias related incidents have changed since the system has been put in place.

According to Sarah Reistetter, program manager for the Office of Workforce Diversity, Equity and Life Quality, 61 incidents have been reported to her staff since January.

The majority of these incidents were verbal attacks or graffiti and involved sexual orientation issues, Reistetter said.

Lieutenant Mike Blenman of the Cornell Police Department teamed up with Investigator Paul Koekebacker of the New York State Police to clarify the categories under which bias-related incidents can be classified.

Blenman offered the “classic example” of someone walking down the street and being called a derogatory name; this would be considered a violation of New York State law on the level of a speeding ticket or being caught with an open container of alcohol.

“We go by some very simple guidelines: who, what, where, when, why and how,” Blenman said. “The more you can tell us, the more we can investigate.”

Koekebacker explained how New York State raised the seriousness of hate crimes by adding just “a paragraph” to increase the penalty for crimes motivated by bias.

Blenman encouraged students to help the police department in fighting bias. “It’s very simple — for us anyway — report everything. If you see something, if you think something is biased, let us know; what’s the worst that can happen?”

Alexandra Bohler ’05, who has tackled similar issues in high school, found out about the meeting through the democrats’ listserve. “I think it’s really good but I don’t think people really know enough about this at all,” she said after the meeting.

Archived article by Beth Herskovits