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Words have consequences

Bias incidents reported in Gordon and Bramley Hall. (Photo Credit: Lainey Porter)

Recent incidents involving vandalism and racial slurs have created tension among students and faculty at SUNY Brockport.  

Freshman Tatum Smyth lives in Gordon Hall, one of the two vandalized dorms, and was frustrated to hear about these incidents.  

“They made me feel very uncomfortable and there was no reason for racial slurs to be written anywhere on this campus. I think Brockport has been handling this situation well and I hope incidents like this do not happen again,” said Smyth.  

There has been a total of fifteen Bias Incident Reports during the fall 2022 semester at Brockport.  

Chief Diversity Officer Damita Davis has been working diligently to resolve the most recent incidents that took place in Gordon and Bramley Hall.  

“In both Bramley and Gordon Hall, there were two points of vandalism. One bulletin board had the N-word fully spelled out and in the other incidences it was the first three letters of the N-word that were written in Gordon; one on a bulletin board and the second was on student doors,” Davis said.  

These were reported through the Bias Incident Report system. This is a system in place for students, staff and faculty to report non-emergency incidents in an effort to cultivate a better and more inclusive campus.  

“When we have a bias incident that’s reported it comes to me and the five other members of the bias response team,” said Davis. “They serve in different functional areas across the university. The person or people named in the report and the location of where the report is will determine who investigates that particular incident. In the case of the vandalism in the two residence halls that will be investigated by folks in student affairs.”  

The Director of Housing will likely be involved ensuring things are being followed up upon, as well as the Resident Director who will check in with students to gather any additional information regarding the incidents.  

“The results of that investigation will determine touching base with any potential witnesses,” Davis said. If someone is named in the report, we will follow up with them. The investigator reports back to the bias response team in terms of the investigations’ outcome. If a faculty or staff member is named in a report in the investigation (that most likely is done by HR) it will be done within the guides of whatever union that employee or faculty member belongs to.”  

Brockport sent out an email on Monday, Oct. 24 notifying students of two incidents that occurred over the weekend in Bramley Hall. A similar email went out on Saturday, Nov. 5 the day after two more incidents took place in Gordon. Both emails made it very clear they are being looked into and that this behavior is frowned upon.  

As of right now, the college does not know of everyone who is involved. There are no cameras on the residence floor halls making it difficult to identify and hold people accountable.  

“A lot of questions we get are, ‘why can’t we know the outcome of a case?’ or ‘why can’t we know what cases are coming in and who’s involved?’ Well, there are privacy laws that we have to adhere to. What we did in an effort to be transparent is create a dashboard that is on the website. It’s live and the dashboard lets you know when a report came in, the date an incident happened, what form of bias was reported, the form of incident that was reported, etc. and we don’t get too specific,” said Davis.  

Sophomore Milo Scheve lives in Bramley Hall and appreciates the fact Brockport has tools like this and the Bias Report System.  

“I feel like they are useful tools for students to use. We have a guaranteed outlet to make campus a better place for us and the community,” said Scheve.  

Davis notes although incidents like this remain an issue, the use of the Bias Report System is a step in the right direction. Students on campus utilizing these systems means people are aware of what the process is and that they want to hold people accountable when things like this happen.  

“Do we want tons of reports? No. However, the more we get, the more we know what we need to address in a timely manner,” said Davis. “If we can see trends and patterns, then we can address those systematically. Part of my role is to convene the team. I review the cases to see if there are patterns and if there are patterns, what do we need to do to address that? So that is helpful information to us.”  

The display of racism and hate speech has become part of a common trend across the country in higher education.  

“Unfortunately, this type of behavior will probably continue because people do not grasp the ramifications of vandalizing, particularly with racial slurs, or other discriminatory language and how that impacts the community,” said Davis. “When we can’t hold those responsible accountable the way we want to, we’re sending out a message saying, this is what’s going on to the community. It may appear that we’re not taking things seriously and for some, we give them the sense that they’re not going to get found out, so they just continue doing this behavior, but they do have serious ramifications.”  

Damaging state property is criminal but Davis believes they also “damage the desire and our want to foster community amongst faculty, staff and students.”  

Davis hopes to see less of this behavior and for people to understand the ramifications.  

“People think that it’s just graffiti and it doesn’t really matter, or it doesn’t hurt anybody; well, no, it does,” Davis said. “It hurts the community in multiple ways. And so, unfortunately, I would not be surprised if we get more reported incidents. I hope we’re able to identify those who are responsible for the vandalism and hold them to account for their behavior and the damage that that causes.”  

The Bias Incident Report is a step in the right direction in creating a better campus, but Brockport will have to work hard as an institution to cultivate a culture shift where all students, faculty and staff hold on 

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