Over 1,300 U.S. universities now use bias reporting systems, and the rate of reported incidents is only increasing. What this means for students is that the risk of being reported for bias or harassment is growing. Even if you do your best to avoid controversial statements and behavior or disciplinary trouble, trouble has a new and effective way of finding you.
What Actions Can You Take to Fight Bias Reports?
Fighting a bias report should be taken seriously and dealt with promptly and carefully. If you’ve been accused of bias, the stakes may be higher than you realize. Whether the allegations have merit or not, protecting your educational and professional future is a key consideration as you decide your next steps.
Here are important actions you can take to give yourself the best possible defense:
1. Research Your College's Policies and Procedures:
Familiarize yourself with your school’s policies and procedures regarding discrimination, harassment, and the filing of related reports. This information is typically available in the student handbook, code of conduct, or on the school’s website. Understanding these policies is essential in navigating the process.
2. Seek Legal Counsel:
Depending on the severity of the situation and the potential consequences, you may want to consult with an attorney who specializes in student defense, education law, or civil rights. They can provide guidance on your rights and how to protect them.
3. Gather Evidence:
Collect any evidence that can support your case. This may include emails, text messages, witness statements, or any other documentation that can help prove your innocence or demonstrate flaws in the report.
4. Speak with the Reporting Party:
If you feel comfortable doing so, consider talking with the person who made the report to understand their concerns and possibly resolve the issue informally. However, if the matter involves more serious allegations, it's generally advised to communicate through official channels.
5. Contact the Office of Student Conduct or Equity and Inclusion:
Reach out to the appropriate office within your school, such as the Office of Student Conduct or the Office of Equity and Inclusion, and express your concerns about the report. They can provide guidance on how the process will proceed and answer your questions.
6. Cooperate with the Investigation:
If an investigation is initiated, participate fully with the process. Provide information, attend meetings or hearings, and engage in a respectful and professional manner.
7. Maintain a Support System:
Seek support from friends, family, or campus support services like counseling or ombudsman offices. Dealing with a bias report can be stressful and emotionally challenging, and having a support system in place is crucial.
8. Understand Your Rights:
Be aware of your rights as a student, including the right to due process and a fair hearing. These rights are outlined in school policies and may also be protected under state or federal law.
9. Appeal (if necessary):
If you believe the outcome of the investigation is unfair or biased, and your school’s policies allow for it, you have the option to appeal the decision.
10. Document Everything:
Keep detailed records of all interactions, communications, and events related to the alleged incident and bias report. This can be useful for maintaining a clear timeline and ensuring that your rights are protected.
In disciplinary matters, universities use a preponderance of evidence standard. This means that school decision-makers only need to conclude that it is more likely than not that you are responsible for discrimination or bias. Pinning down exactly what constitutes bias is even less cut and dry; there is little general agreement on exactly how to define it. Referring to your school’s policy documents and information from the school’s office of equity, diversity, and inclusion will give you an idea of how your school defines these and related terms.
However you decide to proceed, you have options to defend yourself. Dismissing the situation won’t protect you from receiving a disciplinary mark on your record that could follow you down the road and be an obstacle to your academic and professional goals. Taking full advantage of the tools available to fight bias allegations is the best way to get a fair outcome that protects your future.