April 12, 2002

Discussion Held on Bias Incidents

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Recent bias-related incidents and the community’s response to them were the topics of discussion at “Not on Our Campus, Not in Our Community: Progress Toward a Bias Free Campus,” a discussion held yesterday which focused on the roles of Cornell, the city of Ithaca and individual students in addressing discrimination.

Lynette Chappell-Williams, director of the Office of Workforce Diversity, Equity and Life Quality, moderated the discussion. She began by citing statistics about bias-related incidents on campus. This year, the number of reported bias incidents is just under 30, less half of last year’s 62. According to Chappell-Williams, 42 percent of the incidents occurred in residence halls while 17 percent were in other locations on campus.

She also said that of those reports received, the most numerous concerned discrimination against a person’s sexual orientation. Second and third most common were race and national origin. Chappell-Williams noted that this is different from national figures, which indicate that race is usually the number one reason for discrimination.

“We are starting to get an increase in reports from groups other than students,” said Chappell-Williams.

While undergraduate students still constitute the majority of bias incidents, reports from staff members are increasing. Chappell-Williams added that in recent years, the University has been receiving more and more bias incident reports but she attributes the trend to people’s becoming more comfortable in coming forward with a complaint instead of an actual rise in incidents.

Laura Signor, acting chief of the Ithaca City Police Department, spoke about the city’s commitment to dealing with bias and specific measures that have been taken.

“We have had in-service training and a lot of information was given out, especially about certain things to look for,” said Signor. “We have addressed this systematically. We train our officers to respond appropriately.”

Signor also acknowledged the difficulty in training new officers to deal appropriately with race-sensitive situations.

“We do not do a very good job of teaching our young people on how to treat people with respect. We have a real maturity component in this profession,” she said.

Signor, former training captain for the police department, also cited a law passed by the city that steepens the penalties for offenders who commit a bias-related crime.

There was also a panel discussion featuring two Cornell students, Funa Maduka ’04 and Emanuel Tsourounis II, grad, in addition to one Ithaca College (I.C.) student, Shelley Facente ’02.

“I think that students have so much grass-roots power in dealing with these issues,” said Maduka, chair of the Student Assembly’s Committee on Multicultural Issues.

“There are a lot of college deans who don’t know that problems exist because their focus has traditionally been academic,” said Tsourounis.

Tsourounis talked about past bias-related incidents in Cornell history, focusing on a series of events four years ago that lead to a sit-in on campus and a rally on the Ithaca Commons and eventually brought about the creation of a protocol for reporting problems.

Facente had a similar story to tell about her campus. However, on the I.C. campus, a committee of administration officials, faculty and students was created to have jurisdiction over disputed reports of discrimination.

All three students agreed that one of the biggest obstacles to adequately assessing how many and what kind of bias-related incidents occur is informing students about how to report them.

“I think that a lot of people just don’t know what to do. They just sit there and take it,” said Maduka.

Archived article by Mackenzie Damon