Duke explores stiffer penalties for 'bias and hate' offenses

Duke University has formed a committee to advise another committee that is working to implement recommendations issued by still another committee for addressing “bias and hate issues.”

According to The Duke Chronicle, the “Task Force on Bias and Hate” spent about six months reviewing bias and hate issues on campus, dividing its 29-member team of faculty, administrators, alumni, and students into six working groups, each of which contributed its findings for a final report that was issued in May.

For instance, the task force conducted a survey based on the Everyday Discrimination Scale, which attempts to measure the level of discrimination students experience on campus based on perceptions such as whether “people act as if they are afraid of you” or “you are threatened or harassed,” along with the frequency of such episodes.

The school also polled senior students on their undergraduate experiences, asking them to rate their degree of satisfaction with how “secure” they feel on campus.

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The report concedes that the surveys revealed “an overall decline in the levels of student dissatisfaction between 2003 and 2014,” but frets that “significant disparities persist” in the form of high levels of dissatisfaction among minorities, females, and LGBT students, even though dissatisfaction declined precipitously in each of those categories between 2003 and 2014.

Nonetheless, the task force report expresses concern that “40.5% of student respondents reported experiencing some form of everyday discrimination at least a few times a month or more,” including 76.5 percent of black respondents, 59.7 percent of females, 52.9 percent of Asians, and 42.3 percent of Hispanics.

Based on those survey results, the task force concludes that “many of our students struggle with issues of discrimination on a...regular basis,” and goes on to outline a variety of actions that its members believe Duke should take to mitigate the problem.

One reason for the continued existence of discrimination on campus, the report speculates, is that school policy “does not address consequences for student expressions of bias and hate other than might be included in Duke’s broad policy on harassment,” which prohibits “unwelcome verbal or physical conduct that...interferes significantly with an individual’s work or education.”

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“Thus, utterances, expressions, or conduct alone that might be construed as bias- or hate-based are not considered to be a violation of any Duke policy unless they rise to the level of harassment,” the task force complains, before noting suggestively that “as a private university, Duke has some latitude to establish policies that are more limiting than public institutions.”

To that end, the report recommends establishing “a single centralized campus-wide policy for handling complaints of hate and bias,” complete with oversight from the Provost to ensure that all university offices and departments cooperate in surveilling the campus for signs of bias.

Although the task force stops short of demanding that Duke create a separate policy on “hate and bias harassment,” it does contend that the school should implement a “hate and bias intensifier” for actions that violate existing policies but are not “severe or pervasive,” arguing that “except in extraordinary circumstances, a violation that was motivated by hate or bias should receive a more severe sanction than the same offense without a hate or bias element.”

To assist with implementation of that bias response plan, the report also advises the creation of a Standing Committee that would fulfill the task force’s monitoring functions in perpetuity, advising administrators on issues of hate and bias and administering an annual student survey to monitor Duke’s progress in combating discrimination.

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In September, Duke President Richard Brodhead announced the formation of a steering committee to begin putting the task force’s proposals into practice, apportioning its efforts into four categories with a working group responsible for each.

Now, the Chronicle reports that the university has taken the next step of establishing a subsidiary advisory committee that has already begun updating the task force’s website, which has not featured any new content since September, and is also considering issuing an annual report on bias incidents.

"We've become more effective and efficient in responding to [instances of bias and hate]," Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs and chair of the steering committee, told The Chronicle. "I feel good about progress we've made since the Spring. It’s a robust way to keep [the] public informed of incidents that occur and the university’s response to it.”

Moneta did not respond to a request from Campus Reform asking about the specific progress that has been made by the steering committee thus far.

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