St. Olaf unveils new reporting system to combat discrimination, bias

Vice President of Equity and Inclusion Bruce King sent out an email on Sept. 11 to notify students about the College’s new policy for responding to harassment and discrimination within the St. Olaf community.

These policy changes enable students, faculty and staff members to report their experiences to a Bias Response Team and provide them with the option to pursue a formal investigation process, seek restorative justice or simply document their experience.

Although policy revisions were in the works last fall, the College waited until the government released the updated Title IX federal regulations on May 6, 2020 to start making substantive changes to the Bias Response Policy, said King and Director of Title IX and Equal Opportunity Kari Hohn.

The new policy prohibiting discrimination closely align with the Title IX response to sexual assault cases through its emphasis on individual case management.

“We are listening to students’ concerns and every step of the way trying to improve this process. I want students to know that the process is meant to work for them, not against them,” King said.

The new policy provides a framework that has not existed previously for addressing incidents of discrimination and bias. In her new role, Hohn will oversee the new case management process for bias reports. King will be in charge of all intakes for these reports as well as general oversight of the Bias Response Team, composed of eight members of the College’s administration, faculty and staff.

“Students will now get a more hands-on approach to the reporting process and more of a say in the next steps taken after a case has been reported,” Hohn said. She hopes that these policy changes encourage more students to step forward and file a report when a bias incident occurs.

Any member of the St. Olaf community can file a bias or discrimination report. Furthermore, there is no time limit or expiration date for reporting an incident. Students, faculty and staff members can file a report describing their experience and receive resources, including a referral to Boe House, access to Health Services and any accommodations that make the classroom or workplace more comfortable for them, King said.

People file reports through an online intake form that automatically sends the report to all members of the Bias Response Team to ensure consistency in the treatment of each case. Within the next 24 to 48 hours, King or Hohn will reach out to the person who filed the report and offer to set up an in-person or virtual meeting to discuss the resources and courses of action available to them. When someone submits a report, support resources are available regardless of the response action chosen.

No automatic action will be put in place without the reporters’ consent. The meeting with King or

Hohn outlines the formal response, restorative justice and documentary actions, and provides the student with the resources required to make an informed decision on how they would like to proceed.

“If they want to move forward with the investigation, we can use an external investigator or an internal staff person to investigate the concern. All parties involved receive a letter about what the investigation process will look like and what they can expect,” Hohn said. “The investigator meets with the people involved and helps determine whether the bias response policy was violated.”

Depending on the severity of the offense, authorities ranging from Dean of Students Rosalyn Eaton to the police will be involved in determining the appropriate punishments or sanctions for the instigator. The restorative justice tract carries no disciplinary action. Instead, this option aims to reduce the harm that was done by letting the instigator know what happened and the impact of their actions on the person who filed the report, who can choose to remain anonymous.  The Bias Response Team was trained on this last January.

    “This can be a powerful process if all parties are willing and engaged, but it is not always the right response for all cases,” Hohn said.

The official documentation of an incident allows those who filed the report to have their experience on file in case the situation escalates. Throughout this process and afterward, Hohn and King will continue to check in with the affected student.

The response team will not force those who file a report into action unless they are in immediate danger. Although the College will “make every effort to honor an individual’s preferences about whether and how to proceed,” a formal investigation process will be initiated by the response team when there are “overriding safety concerns” for those who filed the report, according to official College Policy.

King emphasizes that the Bias Response Team is not a disciplinary body.

   “They are there to ensure there is a process and that people understand their rights during that process. They address the individual’s immediate concerns, making sure they’re okay. They are the documenting body where the information sits.”

    King has seen a recent uptake in filed reports. “People who file the report now have more ownership of how the report will go through and how that process will work for them,” King said. “This policy encourages people to file reports knowing that their reports and voices are going to be heard.”

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