Chancellor initiates broad review of university’s bias protocols

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Chancellor initiates broad review of university’s bias protocols

Swearer, Wilson selected to lead evaluation
A committee with representation by students, faculty and staff is helping guide the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s plans for the spring semester.

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln has launched a review that seeks to identify and address gaps in its policies, procedures, communications and resources related to the reporting of racial bias incidents.

The review was initiated by Chancellor Ronnie Green following conversations with various groups across the campus and recommendations from co-leaders of the university’s Journey on Anti-Racism and Racial Equity. It is being conducted by Susan Swearer, Willa Cather Professor of Educational Psychology and a nationally recognized expert on bullying; and Catherine Lee Wilson, associate professor of law and chair of the Chancellor’s Commission on the Status of People of Color.

“Any instance of bias is unacceptable and does not align with our values as an institution. However, stating it is clearly unacceptable does not always translate into having the necessary tools to respond to such actions when they occur,” Green said. “I very much appreciate Drs. Swearer and Wilson diving into this review and asking important and hard questions.

“Ultimately, I believe this review will provide us a clearer picture of how our university responds to reported incidents of racial bias and will allow us to address any deficiencies that exist in our processes and reporting resources.”

Chancellor Ronnie Green delivers the State of Our University address on Feb. 13 at Nebraska Innovation Campus. The presentation included an overview of the N2025 strategic plan, which includes a central theme that every person and every interaction matters at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

For this review, bias is defined as any behavior that is hostile, harassing, intimidating or discriminatory and based on actual or perceived race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or other differences. Examples of bias incidents can include, but are not limited to, hate speech, racial jokes and objectifying women.

The work is one in a broader series of reviews to improve diversity and inclusion across the university. These reviews include a recent update to TIPS, the university’s system that allows individuals to report a broad array of incidents anonymously.

Reports of a history of campus-related racial incidents relayed by campus constituents this summer, coupled with a trio of recent incidents during the fall 2020 semester, led Green to task Swearer and Wilson with the review. The recent incidents include — the removal of Black Lives Matter and political signage from private property near East Campus; the use of hate speech by a student during a class Zoom session; and an individual from outside the university posting virulent racial slurs in a public chat on Zoom during a university-sponsored public lecture.

All three of these most recent cases were unacceptable, but he said the signage incident was particularly troubling.

“Stealing political yard signs placed on private property is an irresponsible act regardless of what they say. However, stealing a Black Lives Matter sign sends a message of intolerance and hate,” Green said.

Swearer and Wilson, who started the work Nov. 9, are considering all levels of the university’s bias incident reporting and review processes. This includes a complete review of language within the Student Code of Conduct and if it effectively addresses incidents of bias.

Nebraska's Susan Swearer (left) and Catherine Lee Wilson are leading the review of the university's bias protocols. Swearer is Willa Cather Professor of Educational Psychology and a nationally recognized expert on bullying. Wilson is associate professor of law and chair of the Chancellor’s Commission on the Status of People of Color.

Wilson said the review builds on the university’s N2025 report — a five-year strategic plan released in February.

“A key take-home point in the N2025 report is that every person and every interaction matters,” Wilson said. “We want to be certain that our bias reporting resources and university responses reflect that belief.”

Swearer said the duo is in the data collection phase of the review and they hope to have a report ready by the end of the calendar year.

“It’s an honor for both of us to answer this charge from Chancellor Green and help the campus community consider how we can work toward a bias-free campus environment,” Swearer said. “Ultimately, we would like to create an environment where people are openly encouraged to stand up and do everything in their power to confront bias when they see it.”

From initial impressions, Swearer and Wilson said the university appears to have a number of resources for reporting bias incidents — however, knowledge about availability could be stronger.

“Bias incidents — particularly those involving hate speech and racism — cannot and will not be tolerated at the University of Nebraska,” Green said. “When this review is complete, I plan to work with other university leaders to move forward, making certain we close any gaps, better align existing resources, provide transparency and effective communication on bias incidents, and inform our community about all changes being made.

“This is a high priority as we move forward into 2021.”

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