St. Olaf’s Bias Response Team held a Zoom webinar explaining the bias reporting process on Friday, Feb. 19. The webinar, hosted by Team members Kari Hohn, María Pabón, Rosalyn Eaton and Corliss Swain, addressed recently updated reporting guidelines that meet newly released national standards.

Interim Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Director of the Taylor Center, María Pabón, explained, during the live question-and-answer session, that the Bias Response Team was created in 2017, making it relatively young. For this reason students may be less aware that they are able to report an incident, or they may not be fully aware of the reporting process. Pabón emphasized that fears of not being believed, retaliation or not having enough evidence should not keep one from choosing to report.

“If anyone has any questions or would like to know more about how our bias reporting process works, they shouldn’t hesitate to reach out or file a report,” Hohn wrote in an email to community members. “We really want our community to know about and understand this process so that folks feel comfortable reporting and our Bias Response Team is better able to know about and address discrimination that occurs within our community.”

During the current academic year, the Bias Response Team has received 24 bias incident reports. Of these 24, 11 were classified as “intakes,” in which the reporting party chose to pursue a follow-up conversation with the Bias Response Team. From those 11, there has been one instance of a restorative justice process and three investigations. 

Hohn explained that after a report is submitted to the Bias Response Team’s website, the reporter will get an automated email from the Team acknowledging that the report was received. After this step, Hohn will send a personal email offering to meet with the reporter and further discuss the incident. The decision to meet rests on the individual who submitted the report, the training explained. 

Continuing the webinar Hohn emphasized that the Bias Response Team cannot disclose information to the general public that it receives from reports, whether they are anonymous or not. However, the Team may involve supervisors, class deans, law enforcement or medical assistance, if necessary. 

The panelists explained that the most important thing to know is that any investigations or conversations between parties can only move forward with the consent of the person who submitted the report. The reporter can choose to move forward with a restorative justice process, which includes an optional moderated conversation between the reporting party and the responding party. 

The reporting party can also choose to pursue an internal investigation, in which anyone involved would be St. Olaf affiliated — an external investigation would utilize resources and people that are not affiliated with the College. An internal investigation would allow members of the Bias Response Team to conduct an investigation into the reported incident, which could include interviewing both parties and reviewing other evidence such as screenshots of an online incident. The webinar presented less thorough details about an external investigation during the webinar, but details would be disclosed by the Bias Response Team upon the reporting party’s decision to pursue this method of investigation. 

If one chooses to speak to a non-confidential St. Olaf employee while they are working, the employee is required to refer the reporter in the direction of confidential resources. Confidential resources are available on campus that are not required to disclose information.Confidential resources include Boe House Counseling Center, College pastors and chaplains, St. Olaf Assault Resource Network (SARN) advocates, health services and the campus conduct hotline. Proper safety precautions will follow if there is a clear and present threat to the reporting party. 

The webinar was open to all St. Olaf students and faculty, and 184 people in total attended the live session. The webinar was also recorded by the Bias Response Team and has been made available for those who could not attend.