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Monday, May 10, 2021

Western creates new discrimination taskforce

In response to a proposition by the Western President’s Equity and Inclusion Taskforce, Western’s Equal Opportunity Office is implementing strategies to deal with possible future bias emergencies.

The Bias Emergency Response Team will establish a new, unique role in the emergency response system the federal government has in place for universities. The team will be composed of 5-7 individuals who have undergone federal training to offer their expertise in the event of a major incident like Western experienced in fall of 2015.

After a student used Yik Yak, an anonymous messaging app, to threaten the Associated Students president, Equal Opportunities Office Vice President Eileen Coughlin felt a more efficient response to future incidents was needed.

“We had a terrific outpouring of great leadership during that period of time from faculty and staff,” Coughlin said. “But we did feel like we weren’t as prepared to respond immediately because we didn’t have a structure.”

BERT’s responsibilities will not be to lead investigations or offer private support to victims, but to bring the campus together during the healing time after a bias incident affects the larger community. This could involve organizing listening sessions on campus or town hall meetings, and BERT will facilitate the greater conversation that has to occur.

“The important part for us is to make that stern commitment as an institution to how we encourage equity and inclusion…”

Eileen Coughlin

After the Yik Yak threats, a special task force was assembled to look into how institutions responded to similar incidents nation-wide, and made two recommendations to expand Western’s equity and diversity pursuits. The first was to create a team leader for when a bias response incident occurs.

“That’s not a typical role the federal government has identified,” Coughlin said. “But it is something we’re saying we want to make sure that we have trained leaders, specifically who could step in and be a part of the emergency team structure.”

The designated team leaders are still being assigned. They will be administrators who have already demonstrated educational interest and leadership of issues related to bias.

“They have to be people that have can stop what they’re doing; a faculty member can’t skip class and not teach,” Coughlin said.

The chosen leaders will go through a training process with case studies to practice real-life scenarios in preparation should a bias incident occur.

Coughlin anticipates the case study training to be implemented later this quarter.

The second recommendation the president’s task force gave was for continued bias preventing education on campus, something Coughlin felt was already happening.

A series of equity and inclusion training sessions began last fall and were encouraged for all faculty and staff to attend.

“The important part for us is to make that stern commitment as an institution to how we encourage equity and inclusion, and how we educate ourselves and remain current with understanding our own biases,” Coughlin said.

Western’s Director of Communications Paul Cocke said there is always room for improvement.

“People need to have help with the conversations that are happening,” Cocke said. “I’ve attended the equity and inclusion forum, and it was very useful to me because I picked up and came to comprehend some bias I had.”

Although the response system is still in development, the education is preparation in case the BERT needs to react.

Cocke and Coughlin both think the best way to continue those conversations on campus is through student participation.

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