The University of Arizona's Dean of Students Office announced the creation of the “Bias & Education Support Team” Wednesday, which will monitor and respond to instances of discrimination and bias on campus.
In emails sent out to the UA community, Provost Liesl Folks and Dean of Students Kendal Washington White explained that BEST will “provide appropriate care and support to impacted individuals,” “offer opportunities for all involved parties to engage in optional activities and dialogue that promote education, understanding, and healing” and “track bias reporting trends and utilize data to inform campus leadership of tangible ways to improve the campus climate.”
The email clarified that BEST does not issue disciplinary sanctions or investigate claims of discrimination or bias. The team was created in response to “the need for a centralized place to report and respond to bias incidents was consistently expressed.”
The BEST page, which can be found on the Dean of Students website, explains the role of the team, answers some frequently asked questions and displays a button where students can submit a BEST report. Students should submit a BEST report if they suspect that they encountered an incident of discrimination or bias on campus.
“Based on the information provided in the BEST report,” the webpage stated, “if there is a reasonable basis to suspect that potential discrimination, harassment, or retaliation in violation of the university’s Nondiscrimination and Anti-harassment Policy has occurred, the information will be sent to the appropriate UA office.”
BEST is comprised of two subgroups: the core team and the advisory board. The BEST webpage described the core team as “a team of campus professionals with relevant subject matter expertise” who receive specialized training on First Amendment protections, Student Code of Conduct, harassment and discrimination, Title IX and more topics.
The advisory board will be made up of students, faculty and staff who will have the responsibility to “review report data in aggregate form and provide strategic guidance on how to create an inclusive campus and uphold free speech.” Advisory board applications will be released in spring 2021.
White told the Daily Wildcat that BEST was created in response to student demands for a more proactive approach to reporting discrimination and bias. The UA was criticized over the summer by the Coalition of Black Students and Allies for their lack of response to racial bias and hate crime on campus, leading to them releasing a list of demands.
“The Bias & Education Support Team (BEST) is a reboot and reimagined version of the 2016 Minority Students of the University of Arizona’s (MSUA) list of demands, once [sic] of which was to establish a single method for students (in particular) to report bias related incidents on campus," White said*. "In the summer of 2020, the Coalition of Black Students and Allies (COBA) expressed the need for the University to implement a robust method to address bias-related incidents, and we acted quickly to thoughtfully develop this concept.”
A second email from Folks regarding anti-Asian bias and hate crimes followed soon after the announcement of BEST.
The email acknowledged an uptick in acts ranging from “verbal abuse to criminal physical assaults on members of the Asian and Pacific Islander community” that has “emerged nationally and globally during this COVID-19 pandemic.”
Folks also urges victims of anti-Asian bias or hate crimes to file an incident report referral form with the Dean of Students Office and strongly encourages members of the Wildcat community to access the resources available to them.
“Additionally, in cooperation with International Student Services and colleagues in the Cultural and Resource Centers,” Folks said, “Initiatives for Organizational Inclusion has developed a resource and support website for people impacted by or interested in learning more about COVID-19 related anti-Asian harassment. If you haven’t had a chance to do so yet, I encourage you to visit our Asian Pacific American Student Affairs Student Resource Center. Currently, the center is providing student supports and information virtually and continuing efforts to build a warm, supportive Wildcat community for our Asian and Pacific American students.”
White expressed why she felt the creation of BEST was necessary for the student community.
“It’s important for the University community to centralize these issues to a singular place for consistency, expertise of the BEST team, and unbiased actions," she said*. "We are developing a BEST campus campaign that reflects a proactive approach versus focusing on ‘what not to do.’”
*Editor's Note: This article has been updated with responses from the Dean of Students, Kendal Washington White.
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