A new policy has been drafted and will soon be made public in response to acts of intolerance prevalent last spring. There are plans to present the new policy for acts of intolerance to the UR Judicial Process Committee, students and faculty. “The university’s legal counsel is taking one last look [at the policy], but, in general, we think this is ready for discussion,” Dean of The College, William Green said.
The new policy was formed by a committee of students and faculty between February and May after an outbreak of bigoted graffiti and other acts of intolerance around campus. The proposed policy has been sent to the University Intercessor, and university legal counsel for final review and suggestions, according to Dean of Students Jody Asbury.
To begin the process of writing a new policy, the committee set out to explicitly define an act of intolerance. According to the policy, intolerant behavior is any action intended to frighten, belittle or abuse a person or group because of their identity. If implemented, this definition will be used as a guideline for UR hearing teams.
“The policy doesn’t prevent people from being offended, but does protect people from being threatened or silenced by another person’s actions,” senior and policy committee member Matt Wolfe said.
The current penalty for an act of intolerance on campus is determined on a case-by-case basis by a UR hearing team. The proposed policy will give greater structure to hearings with its standard definition. Acts will still be judged on a case-by-case basis.
“This document aims to set parameters on appropriate discourse in our educational community,” Green said. “The committee is concerned about speech that persistently targets traits of groups or individuals in ways that corrode the learning environment for all students.”
The process of drafting the proposed policy involved a great deal of discussion and debate. “We talked through really hard and sensitive issues and came out with a document we can all support,” Asbury said.
The committee’s preliminary agenda was to draft a zero-tolerance policy for bias-related behavior on campus. This agenda, however, was ultimately abandoned. A zero-tolerance policy “didn’t fall in line with the UR mission,” Counselor for the Office of Minority Student Affairs Thomas Crews said. A policy that was completely intolerant of any person or group’s ideas was avoided.
The committee wants to protect the UR community’s First Amendment rights. “The policy’s intention is not to curb free speech,” Wolfe said. Asbury hopes the new policy will foster free expression on campus. “The best thing for this [academic] environment is for people to discuss different ideas, perceptions and points of view,” she said.
As an example, Crews explained that under the new policy a person could be expelled for yelling a racial insult from a window because the situation doesn’t give an opportunity for a response. “It’s okay to express yourself, but it can’t be one sided ? there has to be room for dialogue,” Crews said.
Numerous colleges around the U.S. have implemented regulations aimed at protecting student groups and the academic environment from bias-related behavior. First Amendment activists have challenged many of these regulations.
The University of Pennsylvania passed a code in 1987 that prohibited “any behavior, verbal or physical, that stigmatizes or victimizes individuals on the basis of race, ethnic or national origin ? and that has the purpose or effect of interfering with an individual’s academic, living or work environment.”
The code was enforced against a white University of Pennsylvania student named Eden Jacobwitz when he called a group of loud black sorority sisters “water buffalo.” An administrative board dropped his charges when he argued that the term “water buffalo” is slang for a rude person and carries no racial implications. University of Pennsylvania has since done away with the code.
Similarly, the University of Wisconsin maintained a speech code for faculty that was abolished when supporters of the First Amendment challenged it in 1998.
Members of the UR committee expressed varying views on how the people will react when the policy is made public. “What we are doing doesn’t violate anybody’s rights,” Crews said, adding that other colleges’ policies were opposed because they were zero-tolerance and infringed on students’ rights.
Wolfe, who is optimistic about the drafted policy, would like to see public discussions follow its release. “I want the student body to debate [the policy],” he said.
Some members of the UR community are unaware of the committee or the possibility of a new policy being implemented. “I noticed last semester’s vandalism, but I don’t know how it was dealt with,” junior Katie Nowak said.
Others are not so eager to see a new policy that addresses acts of intolerance. Junior Lamar Agers feels that ” we need a change in the way people are [which no policy can accomplish.]”
Caselli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.