What exactly is bias…and what are we doing about it?

Image of Jenna Hee-Jung Friedman, assistant director of bias response in the Dean of Students Office at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

UW–Madison is committed to creating a welcoming learning environment where all can thrive. This includes the ability for students to report incidents of bias or hate and receive the support they need, as well as faculty and staff understanding how best to address bias in the classroom. Jenna Hee-Jung Friedman’s position supports the UW’s continued dedication to creating a community where members feel safe and a sense of belonging.

Image of Jenna Hee-Jung Friedman, assistant director of bias response in the Dean of Students Office at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Jenna Hee-Jung Friedman, assistant director of bias response in the Dean of Students Office at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In December, UW-Madison welcomed Jenna Hee-Jung Friedman to the elevated role of assistant director in the Dean of Students Office in Student Affairs, focusing on bias and responding to bias incidents.

Friedman is working with a team to ensure that campus units respond to students’ needs effectively and compassionately, while advocating for student interests. She also focuses on proactive ways to educate the campus community. Friedman took time with us to reflect on her first month on campus.In December, UW-Madison welcomed Jenna Hee-Jung Friedman to the elevated role of assistant director in the Dean of Students Office in Student Affairs, focusing on bias and responding to bias incidents.

Student Affairs (SA): What does your day/week typically look like as Assistant Director of Bias Response?

Jenna Hee-Jung Friedman (JF): My primary role on campus involves supporting students who have been impacted by bias and responding to bias incidents in a way that is restorative and safe for them. Additionally, I am committed to collaborating with the campus community to create a more inclusive, safe, and positive campus climate through outreach and education efforts.

While my office is in Bascom Hall, I try to meet with partners across campus regularly to discuss issues and trends that they are seeing around bias. Since starting my position at UW-Madison, I have met with various student organization leaders and campus administrators who serve marginalized and underrepresented students to start to identify and implement strategies that will effectively address concerns and trends on campus around bias and hate. I also hope to be able to establish some regular office hours within student organization spaces to connect with students by the fall 2020 semester.

In order to effectively address bias on campus and ensure that input on the bias response process is being provided from voices across campus, the Dean of Students Office established a Bias Advisory Board. The advisory board meets monthly to review the incident reports that our office has received and to discuss trends, prevention efforts, and strategies for incident response, programming, and outreach. The Advisory Board consists of representatives from various student affairs departments, University Housing, Division of Diversity, Equity & Educational Achievement (DDEEA), Facilities Planning and Management, UW-Madison Police Department (UWPD), as well as a faculty, student, and graduate school representative.

SA: What constitutes a bias incident and what does not?

JF: A bias incident is any act or multiple acts toward an individual, group, or property, that have a negative impact and that one could reasonably conclude are based upon an actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, gender, gender identity or expression, ethnicity, national origin, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, political affiliation, marital status, spirituality, socio-economic status, age, or any combination of these. Bias incidents can be in the form of microaggressions, slurs, degrading language, epithets, graffiti, vandalism, intimidation, symbols, or harassment.

Our bias response process is not disciplinary and focuses on support, education, and restorative practices. However, we will occasionally involve the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, Human Resources, or UWPD if a particular incident violates the law or university policy.

While the expression of an idea or point of view may be offensive or inflammatory to some individuals, it is not necessarily a violation of law or university policy. The university values free speech and the freedom of expression and understands the importance of these freedoms in higher education institutions. However, while these freedoms protect controversial ideas, opposing views, and sometimes offensive or hurtful language, they do not protect acts of misconduct that violate criminal law or university policy. If language or behavior is so severe or pervasive that it creates an unreasonably intimidating, hostile, or offensive work, learning, or program environment, it could be considered harassment and a violation of university policy.

SA: Where can someone find out more about incidents happening on our campus?

The Dean of Students Office posts a live-log of reported incidents for anyone who wishes to know about what types of incidents are happening on campus and what steps were taken to respond to them. It is updated on a bi-weekly basis. To access the live-log, you can go to: doso.students.wisc.edu/bias-or-hate-reporting/live-logs/.

To learn more about general trends on campus, you can go to doso.students.wisc.edu/bias-or-hate-reporting, where we list our Bias Incident Summary Reports every semester.

SA: What happens when someone files a bias report?

JF: Anyone can submit a Bias Incident Report by going to students.wisc.edu/reportbias. When we receive a Bias Incident Report and contact information is provided, we respond to the reporter or targeted individual acknowledging the receipt of the report and offer to meet to discuss their options for next steps and how we can best support them. We certainly understand the safety concerns individuals may have when making a report, which is why reports can be submitted anonymously. This may, however, impact our ability to respond to an incident.

Depending on the circumstances of the situation, there are various ways to address an incident. When a staff or faculty member is involved, we usually engage them in an educational conversation to convey how certain words or actions impacted the targeted individual and to discuss how to create a more inclusive learning environment for students. We will always do our best to work with the targeted individual to ensure this conversation is held in a way that feels safe for them. If the student conduct code was violated, the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards may become involved. Additionally, we may send support letters or emails to impacted communities; contact organization leadership if they are named in a report or Facilities, Planning and Management if there is graffiti or vandalism on campus property; make referrals to appropriate offices and services on or off campus; or hold restorative conversations between the targeted individual and the respondent(s).

We do not always meet with the reporting party if, for example, the report was submitted anonymously; we do not receive a response; or the reporter does not want to be involved. When this happens, we will still respond to the incident to the best of our ability. Our live-log will detail the steps taken to respond to each report we receive. If we can work with a reporting party to address a report, we do our best to make sure that we move forward in a way that feels safe and comfortable to them and keep them updated throughout the process.

SA: What can I do to be part of a welcoming campus community?  Or to best support students, faculty, and staff on campus?

JF: If you witness or experience bias, first ensure that you and those around you are safe and call 911 in the case of an emergency or contact UWPD at (608) 264-2677 to file a police report. You can also fill out a Bias Incident Report.

If someone discloses to you that they have experienced bias, listen to them and validate their experience. You can encourage them to file a Bias Incident Report or, with their consent, you can report on their behalf to document the incident. This helps us track trends and patterns on campus. You can also connect the person with support resources on campus, such as the Dean of Students OfficeUniversity Health ServicesMulticultural Student Center, and Gender and Sexuality Campus Center. It is important to remember that bias will impact individuals in various ways and that if someone discloses to you, respect their confidentiality, identity, and decisions on how to move forward.

Friedman is part of the Dean of Students Office, which directly assists students with a variety of concerns and connects them to the appropriate campus resources. They also consult with and serve as a resource for faculty and staff, parents, families, and friends, working together to serve students. Drop-in hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., at 70 Bascom.