Bias-Response Team Works for Fair, Open Resolutions

DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION | There are moments that shock the collective conscience of a nation or a city. Those crises do not stop at the gates of Loyola Marymount University, and sometimes, they start within them. Moments of anger or bigotry don’t outweigh the good that LMU students, faculty, staff, and alumni accomplish daily or the achievements of the institution, but the confrontations weigh heavily on everyone’s minds. They are not easily reconciled. Such acts reveal the profound truth in Martin Luther King Jr.’s insight: “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” At LMU that sensibility underscores the university’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Anti-Racism Project, begun in 2020, is another component of that work.

LMU deliberately approaches such incidents when they happen on campus, like many universities across the country. LMU’s Bias Incident Response Team, BIRT, coordinates university-wide communication and ensures that response protocols are fully operational for incidents where bias may be a motivating factor.

BIRT was created in 2005 to address the information gap that too often occurs when such an incident happens on LMU’s campuses. The team, consisting of six members of LMU’s administration – high-level representation from Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Student Affairs; Marketing, Communications, and External Affairs; Academic Affairs; Human Resources; and Public Safety – manages university-wide communication and response protocols for on-campus incidents where bias may be a factor. BIRT’s duties include ensuring that active bias-incident reports are reviewed, advising the president on proposed responses, and developing university communication protocols.

Bias-motivated incidents are acts that do not violate the state penal code but originate in bias against someone’s actual or perceived group identification, many of which fall into federally protected classification categories. The umbrella term bias incident covers all confrontations; only when the actions rise to the level of crime is the term hate crime used. How an incident becomes a focus of BIRT is of concern to the whole LMU community, students, parents, faculty and staff. Though bias incidents have been reported through many informal channels, for students, faculty, and staff all bias reports should be initially made through Public Safety. Chief Robbie Williams of Public Safety said that his first concerns when a report is made are whether a crime has been committed and if anyone is in immediate harm. “Our first priority is the safety and well-being of our students,” said Williams. Echoing that, Senior Vice President John Kiralla of Marketing, Communications, and External Relations, said an incident becomes a BIRT matter when it is of concern to LMU as a whole, partly based on how threatening it may be, or the nature of the distress and disturbance it has created or will create across the university community.

BIRT members ensure that responsible university departments respond appropriately and vigorously to reported incidents and the team actively engages the university’s standard operating framework. BIRT strives to operate transparently and communicate effectively, presenting a fair, thorough, and accurate account, standards the committee is endeavoring to live up to. BIRT updates the community as appropriate information becomes available and the report concerns the university community. However, BIRT does not preempt nor replace existing procedures. It is important to note that BIRT does not conduct its own investigations and may not be fully apprised of the final disposition of any given case. All bias-involved reports will be listed on the BIRT website.

Because of the nature of real-time communications and the speed of social media, BIRT’s role as an authoritative information source has become increasingly essential. The work of building trust relies on an understanding that processes of resolution will be complete and fair. This is where BIRT’s role becomes vital.

BIRT builds on the university’s legacy of striving to be at the leading edge of diversity, equity and inclusion. In the 1920s, Jewish students were welcomed at Loyola and at the Law School when they were regularly excluded elsewhere. After 1945, Charles Casassa, S.J., the 10th president of Loyola University, welcomed returning Japanese internees and found campus jobs for many during contentious post-World War II times. In 1950, Casassa rejected Jim Crow laws by canceling a football game in Texas rather than keeping the university’s African American players off the field. Another example of inclusion is Stanley Chan, a faculty member and later chair of the Political Science Department, who became the first Chinese naturalized citizen after the repeal of the Exclusion Act. In 2001, President Robert Lawton, S.J., appointed Abbie Robinson-Armstrong as vice president of intercultural affairs. Robinson-Armstrong’s charge was to lead LMU into inclusive excellence, and over the course of her 20-year career she positioned LMU as a national model. BIRT was one of the initiatives Father Lawton proposed and Robinson-Armstrong led. In 2021, President Snyder seeks to advance the university’s efforts through his support and reliance on BIRT for counsel and by leading the university’s proactive stance on anti-racism, which was recently enshrined in the university’s strategic plan as a commitment and spotlight initiative.

DEI Buzz

  • Reminder to stay tuned for the Upcoming Climate Surveyfor all LMU and LLS faculty and staff:  Oct. 25-Nov. 19. Students will complete their climate survey in spring 2022.
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Excellence Grants Call for Proposals(due 11/15)
  • Upcoming event this Wednesday, Oct. 20, “Reflections: The Intersectionality of Identity and Social Justice,” 7-9 p.m. Hilton 100, featuring LMU undergraduate film students, Natalie Christensen and Myles Dement screening their films, “Camp Rebel” and “You Do Not Know Me: A Spoken Word Film.” The screening will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Professors Curtiss Takada Rooks, Charles Swanson, and Jennifer Williams
  • Systemic AnalysisYear 2 initiatives are in place.
  • Register for a Report Out Session, where units who are in-progress will share their work and receive feedback from the community.
    Today’s report out session (Oct 19) at 4 p.m. features Seaver College of Science and Engineering and Student Housing.
  • Register to attend an upcoming workshops offered this year:  Classic Consultation Workshops for Unit Reflection
    Capacity and Community Building Workshops:
      • 11/10  CTE faculty panel and workshop “Colorblind does not mean Equity” (register with CTE)
      • 12/8   Building Awareness around Transgender Issues (with the LGBTQ Faculty/Staff Network)