Educating a community

Continuing response to bias incident

By Hannah Lentz | 3/26/14 7:15pm

Following the release of a statement by the Grand Valley Police Department revealing that the student who reported the bias incident on Feb. 17 was also responsible for it, questions have been raised as to what comes next.

The student responsible has been referred to the Dean of Students to await judicial review. Because the case still requires a formal hearing, much of the information regarding a final decision is unavailable, said Bart Merkle, dean of students and vice provost for student affairs.

Reactions regarding the findings of the police investigation varied and led to several faculty and community discussions about the incident.

“One way a university such as ours can deal with hateful behavior is to talk about it,” Merkle said. “I’m impressed by the way the situation has been handled through the press and community interaction.”

He added that these events and conversations regarding the topic of bias can be seen as a learning experience — and a way to improve GVSU’s campuses.

The attention of students, faculty and staff has been directed toward the Teach-In, which was held all day yesterday. Though the Teach-In may follow the recent discussion on the falsified bias incident, it is addressing a topic much larger than one event.

“The Teach-In is not in response to a single bias incident, but rather a response to events we know happen in our campus and in our world,” said Provost Gayle Davis. “Grand Valley’s value system calls for everyone to be treated fairly and with respect and for all to live free of intimidation.”

According to GVSU’s 2011 Campus Climate Survey, bias incidents occur more frequently than some may think. The survey assessed the views of 7,500 students at the university. One aspect that it focused on was harassment, and it found that 11 percent of respondents believed they had personally experienced conduct that was offensive, hostile, exclusionary or intimidating and that it interfered with their work and learning on campus.

With this data regarding bias incidents, it has become a priority to address related campus issues as they are a real and present concern, said Merkle.

“We don’t all have to be alike. We live in a world of ideas and we can do that respectfully through a community conversation,” he said. “Through these efforts, people can reflect on the Grand Valley experience and what all people can do to make campus a better environment.”

The Teach-In may not be the only thing that is needed to address the issue at hand, and members of the campus community are doubtful that one event will fix everything, though it is a step in the right direction. However, many are hopeful that the day will help to reduce the chances of similar events occurring at GVSU in the future.

“I would welcome a solution to the discriminatory behavior, but I don’t have much hope that it will ever be thoroughly eliminated,” Davis said. “Still, Grand Valley is well suited to educate people on the destructive nature of such behavior on all involved.”

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