Wake Forest University kicked off the fall 2014 semester by instituting a campus-wide online system that has the potential to restrict free speech by allowing students and staff to anonymously file reports on any occurrences they deem biased or hateful.
Known as the Bias Incident Report system, the online form does not specify the criteria for filing a report, nor does it explicitly define the word “bias.” Instead, students are pressured to submit a report anytime they believe they are encountering an incident of hate or bias — potentially opening the floodgates for students to report incidents without cause.
The report form lists a bevy of reasons an incident could be perceived as biased, some of which include: citizenship, gender identity, national origin, pregnancy, religion, sexual orientation and economic background. The form even offers an option to upload a video, photos or audio of the occurrence.
The guidelines as to what “bias” relies heavily on student emotion — when a student feels at all offended by someone’s differing political or religious ideologies, a file is reported and is required to be officially investigated by university officials. (RELATED: Dartmouth Student Who Spoke ‘Mock Chinese’ Remains On The Lam)
Once a student or faculty member files a complaint, the report is sent to a group of school bureaucrats who call themselves “The Bias Incident Review Group.” The dean of students, Adam Goldstein, and assistant provost for diversity and inclusion, Barbee Oakes, head the league of paper-pushing justice seekers.
“Upon review of each incident, the group will assemble a team to support individuals involved and help take steps toward resolution,” Wake Forest said in an email to the student body, which is now posted on the school website. ”These steps may include strategies for addressing environmental factors that would reduce the likelihood of future incidents.”
Though the report system was launched at the start of the school year, the school admitted on its website that none of the members of the review group are officially trained to decipher what constitutes acts of bias and hate. The North Carolina university has also not released any information on how the incidents will be evaluated.
Regardless of the potentially harmful state of this system, when the Bias Incident Review Group reaches a verdict, Wake Forest can use the decision to enforce campus-wide policies based solely on the decision of the untrained, newly formed group.