SJC reports five year increase in on-campus identity-based harm reports


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 Carlee Bronkema, Staff Reporter

The 2019–20 academic year is on track to break the record for the most bias reports submitted at Emerson College with nearly 30 reports sent in the first semester.

This summer, the Social Justice Center changed the language of their site and process to replace “bias reports” with “identity-based harm reports.” According to SJC’s website, identity-based harm can include microaggressions, bias, and structural oppression. The number of reports have increased almost every year since the department’s creation at the college five years ago: There were eight reports in the 2015–16 year, 51 in 2016–17, 37 in 2017–18, and 53 in 2018–19.

“I don’t think it’s an increase in incidents,” Vice President for Equity and Social Justice Sylvia Spears said in an interview with The Beacon. “And I don’t think the number of incidents that get reported to us represents all of the bias incidents that happen at Emerson.”

Spears said many students don’t report incidents because of their cultural background. She said if they did, they would be reporting incidents every day.

“That’s part of their everyday existence,” she said. “So they choose not to report.”

According to Spears, reports are most commonly made by students about occurrences in classrooms, whether that be interactions between students that are unchecked by faculty or interactions between students and faculty. These reports are most often about gender expression, intentional and repeated misgendering, racism, and sexism. However, there has also been an increase in identity-based harm towards international and, more specifically, Asian students.

Spears attributed the increase in reports to more awareness of the reporting process and also to the attitude surrounding reporting on campus.

Students, faculty, and staff at Emerson also frequently deal with bias incidents on their own by addressing the offender directly, Spears said. When the SJC receives a bias report about an in-class incident, however, Spears said the faculty member often has no idea what they said or did to harm somebody.

“What I have found is that students extend a lot of grace,” Spears said. “They are willing to give faculty the benefit of the doubt.”

Members of the Emerson community have multiple options when reporting identity-based harm. They can use an online form, send an email to the SJC, or call their office. Once a report is filed, SJC will take action based on what the reporter would prefer.

Spears explained that the most common misconception about bias reports and the SJC is that they have the ability to discipline or punish people.

“There is nothing illegal about being biased,” Spears said. “What they don’t have the right to do is engage in behavior that’s discriminatory.”