An analysis of CCRT's data available online shows that race and ethnicity are the motives for bias that were reported the most during the fall of 2017 at UT Austin. Pie chart made by Omar Rodríguez Ortiz.

UT Registers Increase In Reported Bias Incidents


By Omar Rodriguez-Ortiz

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The University of Texas at Austin registered a 96 percent increase in reported bias incidents in the 2016-2017 academic year, according to information provided by the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE).

 

Leslie Blair, director of communications of DDCE, confirmed in an email response that students and other members of the UT community reported 204 distinct bias incidents, 100 more than the 2015 – 2016 school year.

 

In the academic year 2016-2017, UT Austin registered a 96 percent increase in reported bias incidents in comparison to the previous year. Source: Campus Climate Trend Report and Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. Created by Omar Rodríguez Ortiz.

 

“I think something that is always a challenge is determining causation,” said Betty Jeanne Taylor, assistant vice president at DDCE. Taylor is a leader at the Campus Climate Response Team (CCRT), collaborating with several UT departments to assist in the resolution process for reported bias incidents.

 

Taylor said she always asks herself: “Are there more incidents occurring or do more people know how to report [them]?”

 

Although UT does not have an institutional definition of a bias incident, Leslie Asher Blair, director of communications at DDCE, said they define it as “offenses against individuals, groups, property, and/or society, motivated in whole or in part by a person or group’s perceived identity, including age, citizenship, disability, gender, gender expression, gender identity, national origin, race/ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and/or veteran status.”

 

UT students, staff, faculty and others can report bias incidents to CCRT, which since 2012 has been gathering information about these incidents even if they happen off campus or online.

 

Taylor said the reports submitted to CCRT represent a “snapshot of what is happening” because many do not report them.

 

“It could not possibly be comprehensive and exhaustive of everything that is happening,” Taylor said.

 

According to the data provided, CCRT received 763 reports regarding the 204 distinct bias incidents in the 2016-2017 academic year. This represents close to a 300 percent increase of reports in comparison to 2015-2016, when CCRT only received 194 reports.

 

Several UT community members may make separate reports about the same bias incident. Singular incidents reported more than 10 times are evaluated separately to lend a better view of campus climate trends while still giving all data full consideration, according to CCRT’s annual reports. For example, when racist flyers against Chinese people were found last April in the Cockrell School of Engineering, more than 100 people reported it to CCRT.

 

Detailed information is not available for 2016-2017 because CCRT’s annual report, called Campus Climate Trend Report, has not been finalized. Taylor said via email there is not a specific date to publish the report.

 

CCRT’s annual reports and data provided by DDCE show that reported bias incidents have increased in the last three consecutive academic years, from 69 (2013-2014) to 204 (2016-2017), a 196 percent increase.  The annual reports show that bias incidents related to race or ethnicity have been the most common type of bias identified  (excluding incidents receiving more than 10 reports). Reports citing gender were part of the three most common types of bias incidents, and sexual orientation was among the top three types of biases during three of the four academic years reported.

 

For the first time since the first Campus Climate Trend Report, online harassment represented 24 percent of all reports in 2015-2016, followed by verbal slurs, which had been the most commonly reported type of incident for the previous three annual reports. The reports show students were most likely to report bias incidents followed by UT staff, while faculty, parents, and visitors to campus were among the least likely to report them.

 

CCRT recently created a page that shows information about reports from the current academic year and includes information about the type of incident, the bias motive, and actions taken by the team, like referring it to the appropriate university entity. CCRT is not an investigatory body, according to Taylor.

 

There is no reliable data on the nature or prevalence of hate crimes and bias incidents in the U.S., according to ProPublica, a non-profit news publication dedicated to investigative journalism. To close this gap, it started Documenting Hate, a partnership with more than 130 newsrooms nationwide to verify reports of hate incidents and to create a national database for use by journalists, researchers and civil-rights organizations.

 

Since March 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the civil-rights organizations involved, tracked 329 incidents of white supremacist flyers on 241 different college campuses across the U.S. Another partner, BuzzFeed News, confirmed 154 incidents of hate speech and violence at more than 120 campuses nationwide since the last national election by examining public statements, police reports, local news stories and through interviews.

 

Tyler Wilridge looks at his phone one day after he saw a racially offensive caricature on the doors of the Dean’s Office at McCombs School of Business. Photo taken by Omar Rodríguez Ortiz.

 

Tyler Wilridge, 20, was walking through the hallways of McCombs School of Business on the morning of December 1st until something made him stop. A caricature of what appeared to be an African-American nutcracker with golden teeth, a chain and brass knuckles was covering the double doors of the Office of the Dean.

 

“At McCombs, there is such little black population and to have this be the representation (of African-American people), I felt it was just disrespectful and it was wrong,” said Wilridge, a junior at the School of Business, the day after the incident.

 

The caricature was removed a half hour after Wilridge uploaded a picture of it to Twitter.

 

Dean Jay Hartzell apologized in an email to the McCombs community, writing: “I vehemently condemn the spirit, tone, and content of this image. The fact that this happened is a call of action.”

 

Hartzell also said in the email that the “racially offensive image” was part of an annual holiday decorating contest for McCombs School employees.

 

Wilridge said he was not aware of CCRT’s services at the time and that he has been in communication with the McCombs’ administration since then. He did not report the incident to CCRT.

 

Still, more people learning how to report bias incidents is not the only possible explanation for the sharp increase, according to Michele A. Rountree, associate professor of the School of Social Work in UT Austin. The professor said she believes that the number of targeted incidents toward people who reflect non-majority identities peaked after the last general election.

 

Similarly, Taylor said that, based on her involvement in outside organizations that deal with these type of issues, she thinks the spike in reported bias incidents is part of a national trend that started in 2016.

 

Some believe that an increase in diversity may result in fewer bias incidents.

 

“You are less likely to engage in any these behaviors based on the kind of diversity you have in your personal life,” Rountree said.

 

The Daily Texan reported on December that African-Americans make up 4 percent of the business school’s population. UT Austin reported a similar rate of African-American students in its campus in the fall of 2016. African-Americans represent 12.6 percent of Texas’ population, according to the United States Census Bureau.

 

“Whenever these incidents have happened there is a violence to it that may not involve someone punching you but it does chip away at your sense of safety and your sense of who you are,” Rountree said. “It becomes a part of the air you breathe in ways that if you leave enough of that fog it clogs up your lungs.”

 

Although research about bias incidents is not definitive, Rountree is sure that there is one thing everybody at UT can do to reduce them: “Holding the entire community accountable for standing up and making it very clear that this is something that is not going to happen in our watch.”