What’s with all the hate? SMC bias response team investigates campus incidents

bias team protocol final    Aidan McMurrer, has had a Black Lives Matter poster ripped off his door three times this year. When it first happened in December, McMurrer,  a sophomore RA for Quad Commons and Alumni, emailed Public Safety asking them to look at the security cameras in the hallways to find out who had done it. He did not receive a response.

    McMurrer replaced the sign but once again it was ripped down. He soon heard people coming down the hallway and through the peep hole in his door saw them point at the torn sign, kicking it as they passed. McMurrer confronted the group in the hallway, emphasizing that he merely wanted to understand what prompted them to tear the sign down. He didn’t get much out of this conversation other than meek apologies.

    “They weren’t singling me out specifically, but when you hurt my friend you hurt me. [Confronting them] was pretty terrifying. I was scared and I’m a 6 foot 3 white guy. I can’t imagine what someone who is [actually marginalized] would feel confronting that,” said McMurrer.

    “People rip down posters all the time. But when there’s a Black Lives Matter sign being repeatedly torn down, it’s clear that there’s a motive behind it,” McMurrer said. “If you’re tearing it down to make a point, then come talk to me. I want to hear your perspective and understand why you did this. I’m not out to get you in trouble, I’m out just to understand,” said McMurrer.  

    After the third time his poster was ripped down McMurrer emailed Lou Dimasi, Director of Student Life.

    Incidents with bias roots happen on the St. Michael’s College campus, but often students don’t hear about them except through the grapevine, and they don’t know how they are being handled. Following numerous incidents across campus last semester, including the use of racial slurs and racially charged graffiti and verbal assaults, many students said they felt unsafe and unsupported by the administration when a group of students marched to President Neuhauser’s office on December 8, their first demand was “Enact a Bias Response Team.”

    In response, a group of faculty and staff, led by Dawn Ellinwood, vice president of student affairs, came together in December  to research the best way to create a Bias Response Team (BRT), said Kerri Leach, assistant dean of students and facilitator of the BRT.

    The group researched BRTs at other colleges, including Middlebury College and Providence College, and surveyed students on campus to understand the campus culture and needs. The survey most importantly recommended specific faculty members that the student body felt comfortable with for the team.

    Upon students’ return to campus this semester bias incidents continued.  “The [U.S.] election of the president has spiked incidents,” Leach said.  But the school now has a BRT to handle them with transparency.

    The team includes the following four staff —Kimoi Seale, Kathy Butts, Micalee Sullivan and Kerri Leach—and five faculty members—Katie Kirby, Trish Siplon, Mike Bosia, Shefali Misra and Traci Griffith. Leach also noted that there are several student members who wish to remain anonymous. Besides addressing individual incidents the BRT devises ways to avoid issues of difference and respect through education and training.

    In her email announcing the formation of the BRT, Dawn Ellinwood stated that the new system would systematize the reporting of bias incidents on campus, aiding the college’s response to such incidents. Ellinwood emphasized the purpose of the BRT in stating, “We are a community of choice at Saint Michael’s. That is to say, each of us is here because we have chosen to come here as student, professor, or staff member and with this choice, we all have the responsibility to walk alongside each and every member of this community with respect.”   

    This semester the BRT has been alerted of incidents including the unauthorized movement of a Black Lives Matter flag in Durick Library.  According to John Payne, director of library and information services, the library hung a Black Lives Matter flag on the second floor overpass in conjunction with displays for Black History Month. The week of Feb. 13, a Thin Blue Line flag was hung across from it without permission from the library. The library took the Blue flag down since they had not authorized it. The night after its removal, the Black Lives  Matter flag was stolen. The library replaced this original flag with two new Black Lives Matter flags.  February 20, another Thin Blue Line flag was hung in the library without permission.

      “What we would like to do is create a log of these incidents.  We’re trying to develop something where we can get this out and let people know what’s going on on campus, while protecting people. You have to protect the people who have been affected and [the offenders],” Leach said.

    The log, published Feb. 28, includes 14 incidents recorded this academic year. While it does not reveal names or locations which could expose those involved, it does provide the month of the incident and a sentence long description of what was reported to the BRT. For example, the log notes this incident from February: “The language ‘Gay fucking fagots,’ ‘Blank is as Gay as f—,’ ‘Kill all Fags,’ “F— Trump,’ ‘Black lives don’t matter,’ written on school property.”

    When a student witnesses or experiences a bias incident they are encouraged to report it to a member of the BRT, Public Safety, Residence Life, Student Life or the Center for Multicultural Affairs. Students are also able to fill out a report online if they do not feel comfortable directly going to a member of the groups listed. Leach is immediately notified and consults with Dawn Ellinwood before convening the BRT in response to an incident. The entire BRT analyzes the weight of the incident and decides whether or not to notify the community.  Meanwhile, the team also relays a follow-up response to those involved and provides support to both victims and offenders.  Team members are required to make efforts to uphold the privacy of reporters, the accused and witnesses. If need be, the Office of Student Conduct and/or state and local law enforcement may become involved.

    “I hope that students feel that they are supported. I hope that they feel empowered to tell somebody, know that they matter and that their voices are heard. Also that [moving forward] the community is informed of the culture on our campus and that education will help make change,” Leach said.

  “A lot of people are dealing with a lot of stuff that they don’t feel comfortable talking to Public Safety Officers or even counselors about,” McMurrer said. “What I’m hoping is that people will know that the Bias Response Team is there for them and not just to uphold the laws of the school.”


Nov. 2016 Swastika written in the snow near campus residence halls.
Nov. 2016 Swastika and the words “make America white again” written on a Migrant Justice advertisement poster. This incident happened twice on two separate days. The same words and swastika written on the replaced Migrant Justice poster.
Nov. 2016 The words “work will set you free” written on a dry erase board in a campus classroom.
Nov. 2016 The word “Trump” written in shaving cream next to an RA staff member of color’s door.
Jan 2017 RA staff member’s Bulletin Board damaged that had an Obama theme. The words “Trump 2016 triggered? Fuck Off Den” written on the board.
Jan 2017 While Public Safety and Reslife staff were making contact with a student, student began using hateful speech, all in a very violent manner, calling Public Safety and the Reslife staff “faggots” repeatedly, and later threatened to “rape your soul”.
Feb. 2017 The language “Gay fucking fagots,” “Blank is as Gay as fuck,” “Kill all Fags,” “Fuck Trump,” “Black lives don’t matter” written on school property.
Jan. 2017 RA Bulletin Board with the quote “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist. -Ghandi” was damaged and “-Donald Trump” written beneath “- Ghandi”.
Jan. 2017 Black Lives Matter poster damaged from a student of color’s door.10 January / February 2017
Black Lives Matter Poster Damaged (three separate times – same door) on an RA staff member’s door.
Feb. 2017 Damage to a MLK themed RA staff member of color’s Bulletin Board.
Feb. 2017 Black Lives Matter banner / flag as part of Black History Month display taken from Durick Library and replaced with a Thin Blue Line banner /flag.
Feb. 2017 Student overheard a group of men aggressively yelling and screaming outside the window. They were heard shouting, “Heil, Mr. Hitler!”
Feb. 2017 Knights for Rights poster defaced with the words “Trump, Trump, and Trump – long live freedom”.