Webster University officials hosted a town hall event in response to an incident labeled a hate crime at the end of the fall 2016 semester. The Jan. 19 event was aimed to raise awareness of the university’s policies on incidents of bias and discrimination.
During that hate crime, flyers targeting a particular student with racist and homophobic language were found in the West Hall dorms.
Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Ted Hoef said the investigation into the incident is still ongoing and they cannot talk about details of the investigation at this time.
“We want you to know that we do have policies in place to address hate and harassment and there are consequences for those who are found in violation of those policies,” Hoef said.
Members of the town hall panel included Hoef, University Conduct Officer Phil Storm, Director of Housing and Residential Life John Buck, Director of the Multicultural Center and International Student Affairs (MCISA) Colette Cummings and Director of Community Engagement and Associate Vice President for Diversity Nicole Roach. President Elizabeth Stroble and Provost Julian Schuster also attended and spoke at the beginning of the meeting.
“When I think about the topics that a community would like to have a town hall [meeting] about, hate and harassment is not necessarily at the top of the wish list, but there may be no more important set of topics for this community to come together in a town hall about,” Stroble said. “We have suffered hurt and harm and injury to at least one member of our community, and likely more, and that is an injury to our entire community.”
Schuster said it is important to back up Webster’s policy of valuing diversity with action.
“We are a community which is not going to tolerate any type of hate, harassment or discrimination,” Schuster said.
Storm emphasized the university’s Student Code of Conduct and Procedures, which contains prohibitions against harassment and hate speech, and said students can be confident there will be consequences for those found in violation.
“Come speak with any member of the panel or any other member of our community,” Storm said.
Buck said the same applies to violations of the similar policies governing on-campus housing.
“We don’t want that kind of energy, that kind of hate and that kind of tension created by people who don’t care within the community of students,” Buck said.
For students who want to report a violation of these policies, two forms are available online: the Bias Incident Report form and the General Incident Report form. A submission of either of these forms opens an investigation, which can result in a student conduct hearing. Hearings have the power to impose penalties ranging from a written warning to dismissal from the university.
Roach encourages students to take advantage of the reporting forms, which can be submitted by either the victim of an incident or a bystander.
“This form was requested from the moment that I took this role, which was about three years ago,” Roach said. “So behind the scenes, we’ve been working to prepare to get to the moment to submit this information to the community. It has been met with all types of emotions, from that of rejection all the way to applause.”
Faculty and staff will work on improving the Bias Incident Report form to provide a clearer definition of what qualifies as “bias” and what types of incidents should be reported.
Webster is hosting a variety of diversity-themed events through the upcoming semester, including the annual diversity conference March 1 – 2. Hoef is also inviting students to participate in an upcoming awareness campaign to promote inclusive conversations based on the University of Michigan’s “Expect Respect” campaign.
“We really want to make the statement today that Webster University will not stand for hate and harassment,” Hoef said.