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Committee drafts proposal to improve Duke's response to hate and bias

<p>Students held a study-in at the Allen Building on Saturday afternoon to demand a University policy against hate speech.</p>

Students held a study-in at the Allen Building on Saturday afternoon to demand a University policy against hate speech.

The Bias and Hate Task Force advisory committee has crafted and submitted a draft proposal to administration for improving Duke's response to incidents perceived as harmful. 

The committee—comprised of faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, staff and administrators—was created in 2016 as part of a set of recommendations set forth by the original Hate and Bias Task Force. 

Chaired by Kathryn Whetten—professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy and Duke Global Health Institute—and Paul James, assistant vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion—the committee's goal has been to look for areas for improvement in Duke’s responses to acts of hate and bias. The committee also seeks to reinforce a culture of inclusion, conversation and community trust on campus. 

“What we are talking about is having some sort of community response [because] I think that there is a commitment on the part of all of Duke,” Whetten said. “We need some kind of policy or actions that address it and a broader group of people who are being consulted that includes students, faculty and staff when [such] incidents occur.” 

Whetten declined to provide a copy of proposal to The Chronicle, explaining that it was still in the editing stage.

"We will invite a diverse group of campus stakeholders (including students, faculty, and staff) to consider the question of community responses to offensive speech and actions," Gary Bennett, vice provost for undergraduate education, wrote in an email. "Specifically, we will discuss what the immediate response of our community should be when such acts occur." 

He explained that the approval process will involve a number of groups, including the Executive Committee of the Academic Council, the full Academic Council and the Academic Programs Committee.

"Along the way, advisory input is often sought from individuals, groups and units. In some cases, proposals must be reviewed by the Board," he wrote. "Our processes are iterative; at each stage, a reviewing body can ask for modifications."  

Whetten said that the proposal aims to separate and distinguish free speech from incidents perceived as hateful. 

“Perceived harmful events and how the University reacts to them negatively affects free speech on campus because if you don’t feel that you’re being protected, then [you’re] less likely to engage,” she said. 

She noted that it is important to make that separation between free speech and hateful speech given Duke’s goal of encouraging free speech across campus while ensuring things are said with respect and intellectual engagement.

Furthermore, the proposal aims to centralize incidents perceived as hateful through the provost rather than the Office of Student Conduct or the Office of Institutional Equity, which traditionally both focus on the incident’s context and the motive of the perpetrator. 

“This is about something that's educational, about our community standard, the community values that we sign onto," Whetten said. "We want to have a Duke that engages an intellectual community that's respectful. So therefore, [we decided] this needs to come out of the educational space, most likely the Provost office.”

Whetten said that committee members decided to take a temporary hiatus until hearing back from administration and having a clearer direction. She added that the advisory committee hopes to hear back from the administration in the next few months. 

“We want to make sure that people have a say and are on board, and we want to talk to everyone,” she said. 

Mona Tong

Mona Tong is a Trinity senior and director of diversity, equity and inclusion analytics for The Chronicle's 117th volume. She was previously news editor for Volume 116.


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