Letter to the Editor: Discussion on hate/bias policies should continue on campus

May 4, 2016
In his letter to the editor in the April 20 issue of The Royal Purple “Incident Reporting Left Unclear,” Dr. Mark Zunac raises important questions relating to the implementation of the Hate/Bias Incident Reporting Form and measures being contemplated in response to the blackface incident and the posting of a video with the N-word last month.
However, we did not see in this letter any recognition of the pain that those incidents caused in students of color, and acknowledgement that when there is not an institutional response, many students feel vulnerable.
From our point of view, the letter  seems to imply that the campus is divided into two camps, those who are intent on finding bias and a lack of political correctness and those who comprise the rest of us, when it ends with, “To those oppressed by the current climate on campus, keep your ears open and your cell phones out. A surveillance apparatus has been put in place. To everyone else, lawyer up.”
Secondly, the letter states, “Having students confront opposition in the context of critical inquiry is not worth losing one’s job.” Here, we are left with the impression that to foster critical inquiry one has to disregard the impact of one’s words and actions on students and others. Our experience is that students are much more likely to engage in critical inquiry and reflection when they feel accepted and sense that the classroom is a safe place for the exchange and development of ideas and viewpoints.
The campus and the society we represent is more diverse than it used to be—14% of UW-Whitewater’s students are members of ethnic minority groups, the same as Wisconsin’s populace. Additionally, there is a wide range in the backgrounds, life experiences, and motivations for being at UWW among students, faculty, and staff here.. Research by Claude Steele, Chester Pierce, and others has shown that the stressors experienced by targets of discrimination have a negative effect on students’ academic success, Together, we face the challenge of how we create and maintain a campus community where all feel accepted and have a sense of belonging, ready to engage in the critical inquiry important to an academic community and in wider social and professional contexts.
Free speech is one of the cornerstones of academic freedom. Likewise, careful, respectful listening is necessary to maintain a civil, academic discourse. Is this not important as we foster the critical inquiry that students and faculty hold dear? We encourage all members of our community to listen and to respond respectfully to each other. Of course this is not always easy, but the challenge to do so enriches the educational experience of all.
Furthermore, as faculty at an institution of higher education, it is our responsibility to understand that many of our students’ formative experiences occur outside the classroom, and that the courses we teach do not exist in a vacuum. It is incumbent upon us to encourage our students to think about the difference between free speech and hate.
Incidents this spring were in violation of the UW-Whitewater policies regarding a “Bias-Free Environment.” As the Student Handbook states, “The University has no tolerance for discriminatory or harassing behaviors. The Board of Regents has clearly stated that discriminatory harassment based on race, sex, religion, color, creed, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry or age is contradictory to the goals of the institution.” There is now a vehicle to facilitate reporting of such behaviors–the report form.
We hope that anyone who is concerned about upholding these principles and others with concerns and suggestions about how the campus can move forward on these important and complex issues will get directly involved in discussions about the setting of policies and procedures and the ongoing dialogue.
Dr. Jim Winship
Professor, Social Work Department
Dr. Susan Huss-Lederman
Professor, Department of Languages and Literatures
Dr. Julie Minikel-Lacocque
Assistant Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction