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Survey finds influx in 'bias response teams' on University campuses

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The Bias Incident Response Team at Rutgers works to support free speech while also ensuring that students are comfortable. More universities across the country have recently adopted similar organizations.

On Feb. 23, USA Today reported on a survey from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which looked into the growth of "Bias Response Teams” on college campuses and their impact on free speech.

Bias response teams are described as "collectives of administrators, faculty and other college officials. They encourage students to report speech that may be offensive, hurtful or marginalizing to minority groups — ultimately in an effort to help create a more inclusive campus,” according to the USA Today article.

Rutgers has a Bias Incident Response Team, which consists of members from the Division of Student Affairs, said Jeffrey Tolvin, the director of University News and Media Relations.

The team aims to better understand the reality of the campus climate. Its goal is to support people who feel discriminated against by what they perceive to be acts of biased behavior, Tolvin said in an email.

He also discussed the consequences as a result of a reported bias.

“Many reported bias acts are protected speech and therefore carry no official sanction or consequence. When controversial behavior occurs, we attempt to help students understand the distinction between free speech and bias acts so that we can foster a positive campus climate,” Tolvin said.

At Rutgers, they strive to create a space where free speech is supported while also fostering a positive environment where everyone feels comfortable, he said.

Ross Baker, a professor in the Department of Political Science, spoke about the viability of bias response teams on college campuses.

“I don't believe that saying something that makes someone merely feel uncomfortable should be legally actionable,” Baker said.

Baker said through his experience with free speech on campus through teaching classes at Rutgers,  he believes that Rutgers students are "plenty tough."

“In my classes, students treat one another with respect despite differences of opinion without my having to intercede,” Baker said in an email.

According to the article, there are at least 232 bias response teams on American campuses, with the potential to impact the speech of least 2.84 million students. 

Some schools with bias response teams include the likes of the University of Utah, George Mason University and SUNY Buffalo.

“Bias response teams solicit reports of a wide range of constitutionally protected speech, including speech about politics and social issues,” said Adam Steinbaugh, senior program officer and investigative reporter at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, in the report.

Fourty-two percent of the schools list law enforcement personnel among their bias incident response team members, according to the report. 

As stated in the report, a wide range of constitutionally protected speech is submitted to these bias response teams, which makes having law enforcement personnel involved in the investigations of potentially protected speech controversial.

One advantage to having a variety of opinions at Rutgers is that someone can get a much more holistic point of view on things and better understand other people’s points of view. It is very good for developing character, Farrell said.

“College is a time for people to become more mature — tougher intellectually, and prepared to deal with what the world has to dish out," Baker said. "Let's not tiptoe our way through life and raise inoffensiveness to the status of an important human quality."

Ryan Stiesi is a sophomore in the School of Arts and Sciences. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. 

Ryan Stiesi

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