What happens after the bias incident report?

gabriella patti

Grand Valley State University officials have reached out to student Jennifer Knickerbocker, who recently filed a bias incident report against The Campus Ministries USA, an organization that often demonstrates by the Transformational Link structure on the Allendale Campus.

Knickerbocker was confronted on Aug. 29 by The Campus Ministries USA who told her that because of her blue hair, and “the way you treat your body,” she was going to commit suicide.

“I received two or three phone calls from the bias report people and the dean’s office,” Knickerbocker said. “It was mostly just follow up to make sure I am using resources and that I am OK after the incident.”

The university has recommended the Counseling Center to Knickerbocker and anyone else affected by the group’s presence.

Knickerbocker said that the officials told her that they received other complaints about the group. Bart Merkle, dean of students, was unavailable to comment.

Despite her gratitude toward the university’s response, Knickerbocker does believe that more could be done and expressed concern for students who might suffer from the group’s presence.

“We have all of these great options for people who are having problems,” said Knickerbocker. “And yet we still aren’t doing anything about these people who are shouting hate speech. This speech can directly influence somebody. By having the university Counseling Center, with the magnitude that (GVSU) is, we are accepting that there are students here who are depressed, they have anxiety and other problems.”

Associate Vice President for Affirmative Action and Title IX Officer Dwight Hamilton said that the Bias Incident Protocol is not used as a way to take disciplinary action.

“The purpose of the protocol is not to control, restrict or punish speech,” Hamilton said. “Instead, we ask people to report bias incidents so that we can track what is going on in our community. It helps us understand whether there needs to be an educational response from the institution to address patterns of incidents.”

Hamilton said the bias incident reports enable the university to help the victim and make sure that they are connecting with the proper resources.

He said that with this information in mind, the university will look into the possibility of hosting an education forum or workshop to better explain the protocol.

Hamilton said that Knickerbocker and other students have the option of filing a harassment complaint.

According to the university’s Anti-Harassment Policy, harassment is conduct that is understood as “(1) having the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment, (2) having the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or access to educational activities and programs, (3) otherwise adversely affecting an individual’s employment opportunities or access to educational activities and programs.”

Hamilton said that a “hostile environment” includes any situation in which there is harassing conduct that is sufficiently severe, pervasive or objectively offensive. He said that each harassment report is analyzed case by case.

Knickerbocker believes that if there was a student on campus who said the same thing to her as The Campus Ministries USA did, there would be consequences for that student.

“That is not something that would be allowed from a student on campus, but that is something we are allowing from strangers on campus,” Knickerbocker said.

Hamilton said that the anti-harassment policy applies to all faculty, staff, students and visitors on campus.

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