Minimize Unrest After Racially Charged Incidents Occur on Campus
Racially charged incidents are occurring on campuses at alarming rates. A November 2018 FBI report showed a three-year rise in the number of campus hate crimes motivated by race. Whether responding to acts of bias, such as quoting racially insensitive literature in courses, or hate crimes, such as racially charged killings by police, institutions are examining how to prevent community anger from erupting into violent protests. School administrators and presidents should take the following actions to address concerns and reduce the potential for campus unrest.
- Assess the campus racial climate. Talk with students and employees to understand the issues and select the right corrective actions. Use focus groups, one-on-one conversations, or campus forums to elicit feedback. Regularly meet with student organizations representing minority groups to identify problems and create solutions.
- Open a campus dialogue on racial issues. Show a commitment to an inclusive campus by holding forums on supporting underrepresented students. Provide opening remarks and attend the entire program.
- Create a diversity committee to identify how the institution can be more inclusive. Include student leaders and faculty and staff from a cross-section of departments, such as security, athletics, academic affairs, study abroad, and specific colleges or academic units.
- Determine whether faculty and employees represent student demographics. Conduct a statistical analysis to compare the faculty’s racial composition to that of your student body, region, and state. If faculty and staff lack diversity, consult an employment lawyer about strategies for improvement. Articulate the institution’s stance on changing or keeping specific employment practices based on the analysis.
- Revise performance review and recruiting systems to diversify faculty and employees. For example, create minority recruitment and mentorship programs. Consult an employment lawyer.
- Create a diversity officer position in the senior administration to oversee efforts to improve inclusion. Responsibilities may include creating a diversity report and implementing its recommendations, overseeing a diversity task force, and developing a campus cultural center.
- Build cultural centers on campus. Cultural centers show that the institution welcomes different backgrounds, and the centers provide educational resources about cultural heritage. For example, many campus cultural centers offer publications, media, art, and speakers to teach the community.
- Create and publicize an online or telephone bias reporting system. Work with legal counsel to determine how your institution can best respond to problems identified. For example, as part of an October 2019 settlement, the University of Michigan replaced its bias response team, tasked with investigating incidents, with a campus climate support team, tasked with providing support to targets of campus bias.
- Stay responsive on social media. Work with public relations experts to craft a measured and prompt response to the first signs of social media unrest. Continue to monitor social media as the situation progresses. Respond when appropriate.
- Ensure campus harassment policies do not prevent freedom of speech. With the help of legal counsel, public institutions should review their harassment policies to ensure free speech rights are not endangered. Also, any private college that has adopted a free speech policy should ensure its anti-harassment practices do not encroach on the policy.
- Provide diversity training to students and employees. While training can impart greater understanding, it also can have adverse effects by focusing on potential liability or judging participants. Program effectiveness is critical. Before implementing a training program, review evidence of its effectiveness.
- Inform the campus community. Work with a public relations specialist to communicate with students, faculty, and staff any steps the college has taken to promote racial inclusion. Use multiple tools such as social media, news releases, and letters from the administration.
- Communicate with campus security and local police about conflict resolution and de-escalation. Ensure that security and local authorities are aligned on supporting the community’s free speech rights and campus safety concerns.
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About the Author
Melanie Bennett, Esq.
ARM-E, Senior Risk Management Counsel
In her role on UE’s Risk Research team, Melanie dives into timely topics affecting education. Her areas of expertise include pandemic response, protecting minors, enterprise risk management (ERM), and technology accessibility. Prior to joining UE, she interned at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.