Campus Climate Response Team's new webpage addresses transparency in bias incident reports

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Following an increase in bias incidents reported to the Campus Climate Response Team, the team said students are concerned no actions are taken in response to their reports.

With a new webpage, CCRT wants to show the UT community which reports have been addressed and closed. The webpage, which was published in fall 2017 and formally announced in a campus-wide email last Wednesday, lists recent reports on bias incidents and the actions taken by the team.

When a bias incident is reported, CCRT will contact the reporter within 48 hours to get more information from the reporter’s perspective. Then the team refers the reporter to appropriate campus or community resources, such as the Office of Dean of Students or the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs.

Leslie Blair, executive director of communications of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, said prior to the decision to make reports available online, CCRT had to consider the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act’s rules. FERPA restricts the University from disclosing private reports involving students.

Reports posted on the webpage do not show specific information such as students’ names or the people involved in the incident.

“The website is really there to enhance our transparency of our purpose and our function, also to provide an avenue to receive feedback from our students and our faculty and our staff so that we can continue to make appropriate decisions about how to respond,” said Audrey Sorrells, associate dean of students for research and a CCRT lead team member.

Blair said students may think the reports aren’t being addressed because this information is not released.

“There are things that have happened that a reporter for the (Austin American-Statesman) publishes more than we’re letting people know here on campus,” Blair said. “That’s often a concern of students … but it is all related to certain rules that the University has to follow.”

The reports page is updated at least twice a month and will only include reports after they have been closed out by CCRT and reporters have been referred to the appropriate resources, Blair said.

In the academic year of 2016–2017, there had been an increase in number of bias incidents reported to the CCRT compared to 2015–2016. In total, there were 763 reports for 204 incidents in 2016–2017, compared to 194 reports for 104 incidents, according to data from CCRT.

Liz Elsen, director of the Gender and Sexuality Center and a member of the CCRT lead team, said the increase in incidents reported may be due to an increased awareness of CCRT services and not necessarily an increase in bias incidents on campus.

“I think in any case when people think, ‘Oh no, there’s an increase in reports,’ it automatically means that there’s an increase in bias incidents,” Elsen said. “I think that people are hearing about it more and want to make sure those cases are documented.”

Elsen said she hopes transparency on the actions taken following each reported incident will encourage more students to report incidents to CCRT.

“It is important for people to know that campus is responding (to their reports),” Elsen said. “Each report gives us more of a full picture of what life on UT campus is like.”