As more incidents ignite controversy, is SLU doing enough?
“Saint Louis University has received a report of a bias incident involving a member of the University community.”
These words have been emailed out to the SLU community 13 times this academic school year. Seven of those times being since January, with four of the instances having a current on-going status of investigation. What the words really mean and how many people pay attention to them remains to be seen, as does the amount of bias incidents that never get reported.
SLU defines a bias-related incident as any act or behavior that violates the student conduct code or harassment policy and is motivated by a regard to race, sex, religion, sexual orientation or any other protected classification. All reported incidents go through the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, which in turn investigates the incident and handles it accordingly.
Last month the office received a particularly alarming incident report in which members of one of SLU’s Panhellenic sororities had taken a photo that portrayed the Mexican culture in a stereotypical light. The photo was found as offensive and to be a perpetuation of the idea of cultures as costumes. It prompted many upset and angry responses from members of the SLU community, including those from the Diversity Leadership Cabinet, the Hispanic-American Leadership Organization and even members of that same sorority.
This incident does not stand alone at the University, however. Twelve other bias-related incidents have occurred since the beginning of the academic year, and many people question the amount of incidents that go unreported – as well as the general lack of concern that they see from the community.
“If you live in this privilege, then why would you have to be concerned about people who are different and people who go through those daily struggles of being different?” said Mikaela Romo, SGA vice president-elect of diversity and social justice. She commented on cultural insensitivity coming from those who are not directly affected by certain issues and therefore do not need to worry about them.
SLU attempts to promote this sensitivity through the incident report log and the bias-related incident alert emails, but there are complaints that the log is too vague and that the emails get ignored by a majority of the community. Michelle Lewis, director of the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, said that the protocol for these situations is currently being reworked, but that a certain balance must be achieved. Lewis stated that the vagueness of the report log comes from an individual’s right to a certain level of privacy and the need for more investigation into the situation once the community has been alerted.
“At the end of the day, every incident that comes to our attention needs to be addressed,” said Lewis. “What we’re looking at now is: what is the proper mechanism for addressing it?”
She expressed concern for the integrity of the report log, as the documented incidents can include everything from graffiti that was intended to be humorous to an actual targeted attack against a culture. The department is looking for a way to handle each incident with care while not creating immunity to the emails and report log. Educational opportunities, such as an intergroup dialogue course, are being discussed as ways to enhance cultural competence.
“We just need to start educating the masses because it’s hurting people,” stated Black Student Alliance Senator Brittany Kendrick. “Prejudices and thoughts that we tend to develop here at school will follow us into our everyday lives after college.”
Kendrick says that the emails and report log should serve as a reminder to remain conscious of one’s actions and words.