College makes changes to BIPR system and Civil Discourse page

Over the course of the past few months, changes were made to two Colby web pages, Civil Discourse and the Bias Incident Prevention Response (BIPR), that are often the topic of impassioned discussion amongst students.

In late June, Dean Karlene Burrell-McRae `94 sent an email to the student body addressing changes spearheaded by the BIPR team to “ensure that we support each other as valued members of the community and create an environment where everyone can thrive and succeed.”

The changes were brought about by, as the full Review Report reads, an effort to more adequately challenge events like the “particularly damaging bias incident in the fall semester 2018.”

This statement likely references the “Akon Day” party, for which students dressed up in costumes appropriating incarcerated African-Americans in reference to Akon’s nickname “Konvict.”

Burrell-McRae concluded the message by promising to implement the recommendations that the team provided in evaluating the current state of the BIPR system. The system includes web page edits, improved communication with the community regarding bias incident procedures and responses, and amendments to the Student Handbook so bias incident protocol is more clearly defined (e.g. defining and separating bias incident versus conduct incident). 

Further, changes to the Civil Discourse page were relayed to students in a Sept. 27 email from Student Government Association President Mathew Garza `20 and Vice President Thomas LaJoie `20.

The message explained that “guidelines and questions” now appear when a community member decides to make a post, specifying that contributors must be conscious to remain “in responsible relationship with one another.” The email continued to answer frequently asked questions (FAQs), clearing up any confusion on whether content in posts may be vetted, filtered, or restricted (they will not be).

One FAQ in particular was presented: “Why is this happening now?” Unlike the BIPR team report, which cites a specific incident for the change, the FAQ response states that “it is important to periodically revisit and make changes or additions based on the current needs of our community. This is simply a reminder to encourage individuals to participate in a more impactful and thoughtful way.”

No other major structural change to Civil Discourse post writing has not taken place within the last three years. Prior to the change, community members were not given any kind of warning before making contributions. 

This update comes after the intense discussions and arguments that took place on the Civil Discourse page in a turbulent 2018-19 academic year that included the outing of an underground fraternity, the resignation of SGA presidents, and the continued appearance of swastikas on campus.

In viewing the archived posts, which can be accessed via the Civil Discourse page, one can find multiple instances of highly sensitive moments or posts that might be deemed inappropriate for the platform. These include comments that attack an individual’s character instead of the argument, posts that may have been better off on the “Lost/Found” page, and quickly-made accusations from student to student under hypersensitive circumstances.

The Echo recently made a test post on the Civil Discourse site, which has yet to be used this year, in order to observe what community members are now prompted with. When one chooses to post, they are redirected to a WordPress page, which has no additional statements available to the poster. However, when the post has already been published, a lengthy notice appears above the text box if one decides to make an edit. 

The opening statement reads, “Civil Discourse is best when contributors embrace open conversation, sharing of concerns, and respectful dialogue. As you develop your post, please ensure it is accurate and factual, [and] consider its possible effects on our community.”

Following this are questions that the posters are encouraged to ask themselves when drafting their message, including whether or not its content aligns with the Colby affirmation, if the post would be better conveyed directly to the subject of the post, or if it contains hate speech (“hate speech” is then explicitly defined).

It is unclear whether the notice appears immediately when commenting rather than starting a post.