Number of identity-based harm reports down amid shift to online learning


Tivara Tanudjaja

Identity-based harm reports for the 2019-20 academic year nearly surpassed the number of reports filed last year, even with the shift to remote instruction amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Gege Tan

The 2019-20 academic year was on the verge of breaking last year’s record of identity-based harm reports at the college before the rate of submitted reports declined in the spring semester as the Emerson community began to operate remotely. 

The Social Justice Center received 62 reports this year, compared to the 68 the center received in the 2018-19 academic year, according to the SJC’s community update sent on April 27. Although this academic year was on track to receive the highest number of reports based on data compiled during the first semester, the SJC said in its email that the mid-semester shift to online classes must be taken into account.

Sylvia Spears, vice president for equity and social justice, said the center has seen a decline in the number of identity-based harm report submissions since the college shifted to online teaching in March due to the ongoing pandemic.  

“If we resume on campus in the fall, we may see incidents in kind of a continuous pattern,” Spears said. 

In February, Spears said that there was an increase in identity-based harm reports specifically toward Asian and Asian American students. She recently told The Beacon that the SJC had received concerns in the spring from individuals in the Asian and Asian American communities about xenophobic behavior in the Boston area, attributing the trend to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

“Because people are in wide proximity to each other, the likelihood of things happening might be reduced,” Spears said in a phone interview. 

Spears acknowledged that it is hard to predict if the number of reports will continue to rise over the years, because the occurrence of incidents greatly depends on the influence of the campus’ environment.

“I think it’s always a rise in reporting,” she said.

Spears attributed the growing trend of reports over the years to the increasing awareness of the reporting process, instead of a rise in actual incidents. However, Spears said she thinks many more incidents have occured than people report.

Spears said she encourages people to share any identity-based harm experience with the SJC or someone else in the Emerson community who they feel comfortable speaking to. Incidents can also be reported on the SJC website, which can be sent anonymously.

“The more information we have, it gives us a better sense of what the climate is on the campus,” she said. “Then we can direct our energy to educating the community around the impact of those harms.”