Message to Campus about Hate-Bias Reporting Process

April 20, 2016

Dear Towson University Community:

A hate/bias incident in a café in the Liberal Arts building was first reported less than two weeks ago to the Towson University Police Department, and they brought in the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity and the Office of Student Conduct and Civility Education.

This incident and the university's response to its reporting, which was covered in the most recent issue of The Towerlight, has been the subject of serious concern for several student and campus groups including the Social Justice Collective, the Black Student Union and the Student Government Association. 

As an update, the university began an investigation of the LA Café incident on April 6th after TUPD received a report that a TU student made racist and disruptive comments to an employee of the café and threw coins across the service counter toward the employee. 

Meetings and discussions with the employee, several witnesses and the Chartwells management team occurred to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to keep the employee safe from harassment and harm. The reported incident was thoroughly and expeditiously investigated by the TUPD, which concluded that the incident in the café did not rise to the level of a crime; however, the university is taking this seriously and an on-going investigation is underway by the Office of Student Conduct. 

Last week additional incidents involving racist and disruptive behavior were brought forward by other members of our community. These reports were added to the overall investigation so a comprehensive review of all incidents related to possible conduct code violation(s) can be reviewed and appropriate disciplinary consequences enforced. The completion of the investigation and its findings are expected later today.

Due to federal and state privacy law and regulations, the details of this case and its outcome will not be shared with the university community as a whole. However, the outcome of the investigation will be shared with the employee.

As Towson's president, as an institution of higher education, and as a community, we condemn hate speech and any racist behavior toward a member of our community, and it will not be tolerated. The university is responsible for making sure that individuals who violate our policies prohibiting discrimination are held accountable. We must also take steps to eliminate the hostile environment created by the conduct, address its effects and take steps to ensure that the conduct does not continue.

In my short time here, several individuals and university groups have widely criticized the hate/bias reporting process. It has been described as confusing, ineffective and non-responsive. In an email I received yesterday, members of the Social Justice Collective brought forward specific suggestions to improve the transparency, effectiveness and responsiveness of the university's hate/bias process.

Here are their thoughtful ideas for change (in bold) and our responses to them:  

Timely response to hate/bias incidents

The university will establish a reasonable response time for responding to hate/bias incidents.

Central coordination of hate/bias response efforts

The current Hate-Bias Response Team will be renamed to better reflect its current responsibilities; A central body with direct responsibility for responding to hate/bias incidents will be formed.  

Communication with hate/bias victims

Victims of hate/bias incidents will be informed about the hate/bias response process, the possible outcomes of that process, the progress on their case and their ability to participate in the process. 

Publicizing of hate/bias procedures to the entire campus community

Campus personnel, students and guests will be able to report a hate/bias incident without having to contact the police and all police reports of hate/bias incidents will be independently reviewed by the university. The general reporting system for hate/bias incidents will be advertised to the entire campus community, including contract workers.   

Increased transparency around crime log reporting

Any hate/bias incident that also meets the definition of a crime is reported on the crime log. All other hate/bias incidents that are not criminal offenses under Maryland law will be reported separately and with increased transparency. In addition to providing educational programming for TUPD staff members on these important issues, any Towson University employee who has responsibility for identifying and responding to hate/bias incidents must also be appropriately trained regarding university policies and any changes to our procedures.

Clarification of purpose of crime alerts

Crime alerts (via text and email) are used for incidents that occur both on and off campus that pose an immediate or on-going [physical and safety] threat to the campus community. Campus police determine those threats based on information they receive when a crime is reported. However, a means by which we can report race/bias incidents, either individually or in aggregate, is very worthy of serious consideration and will be assessed. 

The concerns raised regarding the hate/bias reporting process are valid, and implementing these ideas for change will be part of our ongoing efforts to be an inclusive campus. This is a priority. 

To facilitate the implementation of the ideas for change detailed above, as well as provide strong emphasis and support to create a more transparent, effective and responsive hate/bias incident process, I have asked Dr. Santiago Solis, assistant vice president for student affairs, diversity, to lead a full review of the hate/bias incident process.

In leading this effort, Dr. Solis will report directly to me, and work with the Hate/Bias Response Team to review and revitalize this process. As suggested above, “the committee will be renamed to better reflect its current responsibilities and create a central body with direct responsibility for responding to hate/bias incidents.”  I know you all join me in thanking him for taking on this important role and will provide him our full support.

In the days and months ahead, I will share more of my vision for addressing these critical issues and look forward to continued collaboration and dialogue regarding our progress. 

Again I want to thank The Towerlight editors and staff, the BSU, the SGA and the Social Justice Collective for their attention and activism in support of an inclusive Towson community. 

Kim Schatzel, Ph.D.