Keeping tabs on inclusion

Meghan McBrady

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In order to prevent and resolve any prejudice that may occur at Grand Valley State University, the Dean of Student’s Office has created an open forum for the community to report bias incidents.

For the last few years, the online file has been used as a reporting system so that GVSU can protect and help students, staff and faculty find a resolution to campus issues.

Bart Merkle, the dean of students, said that the online report will ultimately help foster communication in ending negativity and hatred on campus.

“The university’s values are such that we want to be in an inclusive place and create courtesy and civility,” Merkle said. “However, we do at the same time have such a strong commitment to the freedom of expression and the first amendment, then problems really do occur.”

Merkle said most cases reported were not necessarily a policy violation or against the law, but he did display to his office that there are problems that need to be ratified and addressed at GVSU.

He said that if somebody has said something particularly awful – most bias incidents are usually issues over race, gender, sexual orientation and religion – Merkle and his office will then have the opportunity to follow up with the victim in order to provide campus resources, like the Counseling Center.

“This gives us the opportunity to – if we know who the individual is that has expressed some hateful kind of thing – to sit down and explore that and probe a little bit in terms of trying to understand if that is what they intended and understand if they really want to be hateful,” Merkle said. “Because we are trying to help them understand how a person can be hurt by what they said.”

As there are no particular set ways in processing bias incident reports, it is mostly about working with students to resolving the issue. In particular, it is about standing up and supporting the GVSU community when negativity and hatred is being spread.

“We are encouraging everyone in the community to be active bystanders,” Merkle said. “Whether it is related to things that are hateful behaviors or comments or actions, we are encouraging members of the community to not be fearful of not saying something and challenge the hate, while in our protective speech rights, to bring about the values of inclusiveness.”

Aaron Klein Haight, the assistant dean of students, said she does not think a lot of students are aware that they can file a bias report. She indicated that the benefit of having an easy access to this report will allow students to express their thoughts and feelings to the university.

“While there will be some students who will post their biases anonymously, saying ‘I’m just letting you know this happened,’ we will also get students who will file the bias incident and want to see some follow up,” Haight said. “I will review the incident, it will come to me and I will determine if this incident is truly an act of bias or note if there is something more to an incident, particularly if it is harassment.”

To report a bias incident, visit www.gvsu-advocate.symplicity.com/public_report/index.php/pid080355.