College responds to Civil Discourse bias report

On January 22, the College community was made aware of an alleged bias incident via a senior student’s Civil Discourse message. The described event took place inside the Alfond Senior Apartments.

The student who wrote the Civil Discourse post said that the conflict arose between himself and a group of male students who reside in the Apartments. The student said that on a previous occasion he had seen items, such as ice, being “dangerously” thrown out of the alleged perpetrators’ apartment window, and on this specific instance, the writer was “hit in the face with a piece of ice.”

Given the fact that the student had had multiple negative encounters with this particular apartment, according to the email, he decided to go upstairs and demand an apology: “I decided I wasn’t going to let this incident go…at this point, I wasn’t considering posting to the discourse, but what followed inside [the apartment] was a real display of homophobic and hyper masculine bullshit.”

Upon entering the apartment, the email describes “being met by a dozen large drunken men” who refused to offer an apology for throwing the ice—even though one of them allegedly admitted to doing so.

The tension in the room quickly escalated after the student claimed one of his peers inside the apartment called him a gay slur. Hateful words continued to flow, according to the Civil Discourse, from the mouths of multiple students.

After again demanding an apology for the original offense, the student claims he was hit by a second piece of ice and another student “grabbed [his] throat for the first time, but quickly let go.” The physical contact that, combined with gay slurs, would turn this type of encounter into a hate crime continued: “He grabbed a pair of scissors off of the table…and told [the student] he was going to cut off [his] hair.”

According to the email, the student holding the scissors ultimately put them down after being urged by one of his peers to walk away from the situation. The writer of the Civil Discourse credits this mediator with being “the only reason [he is] not hurt right now,” and said that he “apologized for everyone,” involved.

Several days later, the victimized student contacted and met up with the alleged perpetrators in their apartment “to sit down and discuss what happened.” The Civil Discourse describes the meeting as lasting no more than four minutes and being “incredibly disingenuous.” The student claims that his classmates said he did not understand their jokes and that snowball fights were supposed to be “fun.” The student wrote in response to his peers: “This discourse post is not about snowballs. It’s about assault.” He concluded the message by noting that, in the apartment, there was a large group of people who seemed to “believe that this type of aggressive, macho, ignorant behavior is permissible and okay.”

Given the obviously detrimental effect that an event of the described nature poses to everyone’s safety on Mayflower Hill, several community groups and individuals were quick to issue responses to the Civil Discourse. Chair of the Bias Incident Prevention and Response (BIPR) team Tashia Bradley wrote in her response: “Colby takes allegations of targeted threats and harassment seriously…[and] I write to share that the incident described yesterday in the Digest of Civil Discourse is under investigation.”
Director of the Gender and Sexual Diversity Program and Associate Director of the Pugh Center Emily Schusterbauer said in an interview that her initial reaction to the Civil Discourse was “shock, especially because there was a physical component to it.” She noted, however, that “the sentiments expressed were similar to those expressed in other BIPR reports.”

President David A. Greene followed up on Bradley’s remarks on January 23 in an email to the campus community: “The allegations, which include targeted harassment and assault, are deeply concerning and, if accurate, would describe behavior that is entirely antithetical to our community values and Colby’s code of conduct.” In order to assess the accuracy of the claims made in the Civil Discourse, Greene announced that the Dean of Students Office would “engage” an external investigator for the case. The same protocol is typically taken for sexual assault cases under Title IX mandates.

Due to his involvement in the investigation, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Jim Terhune declined to comment for this article.

Bradley noted in an interview: “Students should know that there are certain things that when the institution is put on notice…we are obligated to act,” whether or not the complaint is filed as a BIPR report. She clarified that the concept of being “on notice” in the Civil Discourse situation is similar to what happens under Title IX.

Several student groups also responded to the Civil Discourse, including the Bridge, the Pugh Community Board, and the Student Government Association (SGA). The message from SGA reiterated points made by the two former groups by saying, “There has never been, nor should there ever be tolerance for the disregard of basic human decency that occurred last weekend.” The groups all also urged any student feeling “unsafe or targeted” to contact Campus Security at any time.

Schusterbauer said that she felt the emails sent in response accomplished “a sense of solidarity” for the community.
As a more formal response, the College held a community gathering in order to discuss acute feelings about the sentiments expressed in the Civil Discourse. While Bradley expressed her surprise over how many people ended up attending the gathering, she also noted in the interview that the College “should not be having to have dialogues every week in order to engage [its students].”

Schusterbauer said that, at the dialogue, she heard students say, “even when they hear and recognize that people are expressing homophobic views, they don’t really feel comfortable saying anything to that person.”

The negativity that can be caused by remaining passive when observing bias incidents was also addressed by Bradley: “What kind of a community are we where these things can happen and people can feel so comfortable doing these things?”

“If we are trying to be the very best Colby that we can be, we have to think about what it means to be an inclusive community and to check ourselves when nobody is looking,” Bradley said.

When conversations about inclusivity arise on this campus, they can often be connected back to the racial bias incident on YikYak last spring, which Bradley noted demonstrated a similar issue with detrimental statements. “It’s not just words, if you understand history and you understand the ways that people interact with each other, words are often accompanied by physical violence,” she said.

Echoing Bradley and Schusterbauer’s sentiments, the final lines of the student’s Civil Discourse post read: “If your friends are acting aggressively, threatening strangers, or just exhibiting general hegemonic hyper masculinity, you should probably stop them.”

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