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Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

What is a bias incident or hate crime?

Bias Incident

A Bias Incident is characterized as a behavior or act—verbal, written or physical—which is personally directed against or targets an individual or group based on perceived or actual characteristics such as race, color, religious belief, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national or ethnic origin, disability, veteran status, or age. Behavior reflecting bias may constitute a violation of Vassar College Regulations. The kinds of incidents that may constitute a bias incident, include but are not limited to, threatening telephone calls or mail (including electronic mail), graffiti, physical assault, sexual assault or abuse, stalking, vandalism, destruction of personal property, harassment, coercion or the use of oral or written expression of bias involving degrading language or stereotypes. Vassar strongly encourages the reporting of all hate crimes and bias incidents that occur on campus or at college sponsored events and activities occurring off campus.

Note: The expression of an idea or point of view some may find offensive or charged is not necessarily a bias-related incident. Vassar values freedom of expression and the open exchange of ideas. The expression of controversial ideas and differing views is a vital part of campus discourse. While this value of openness protects controversial ideas, it does not protect harassment or expressions of bias or hate aimed at individuals or groups that violate College policies.

Hate Crime

Federal and state statutes on hate crime vary in terms of the acts and categories of bias that are covered. Under New York State Law, a hate crime is committed when a person commits a specified offense and (1) either intentionally selects the person against whom the offense is committed or intended to be committed, or (2) intentionally commits the act or acts because of a belief or perception of the person’s or group’s race, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, religion, religious practice, age, disability, or sexual orientation, regardless of whether the belief or perception is correct. When a person is convicted of a hate crime pursuant to Article 485 of New York State Hate Crimes Act of 2000, the law provides for the level of a hate crime to be deemed one category higher than the specified offense, when that specified offense is a misdemeanor or a class C, D or E felony. When the specified offense is a class B or A­1 felony, the term of sentence is enhanced.

Note: All hate crimes are bias incidents, but not all bias incidents are hate crimes .

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What is BIRT?

BIRT or Bias Incident Response Team is responsible for acting as Vassar’s “first response” team when dealing with reported bias incidents. Additionally, in working closely with appropriate administrators, students, faculty, committees, organizations and offices BIRT plays an educational role in fostering inclusive campus climates and supporting targets individuals when bias and hate incidents occur.  The team has broad membership in order to support and affirm Vassar’s educational mission and commitment toward “an education that promotes analytical , informed, and independent thinking and sound judgment; encourages articulate expression; and nurtures intellectual curiosity, creativity, respective debate and engaged citizenship.”

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Who are the Bias Incident Response Team members?

The Bias Incident Response Team may include any number of the following as well as other members of the Vassar community, depending on the reported incident.

2017-18 Resource Team

  • Elizabeth Aeschilimann, Director for Jewish Life and Assistant Director for Religious and Spiritual Life
  • Tarmar Ballard '19, Vassar Student Association; Chair, Equity and Inclusion
  • Jodie Castanza, Director for the Campus Life LGBTQ and Gender Resources
  • Richard Horowitz, Interim Director or Residential Life, Associate Dean of Students
  • Wendy Freedman, Director of Psychological Services
  • Wendy Maragh Taylor, Interim Director for the Campus Life ALANA Center,
  • Andrew Meade, Director of International Services/Assistant Dean for Campus Life
  • Rachel Pereira, Director for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action 
  • Edward Pittman '82, Team Coordinator and Associate Dean of the College for Campus Life and Diversity
  • Sam Speers, Director of Religious and Spiritual Life/Assistant Dean for Campus Life
  • Kim Sqillace, Associate Director of Safety and Security
  • Candice Swift, Associate Professor of Anthropology
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What's the criteria for selecting what to Report?

When BIRT receives a report, the content is reviewed to determine if factors of race, color, religious belief, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national or ethnic origin, disability, veteran status, or age are present and if there is evidence or information pointing to possible bias. BIRT also considers the impact of a behavior and spoken or written expression on individuals, groups or the campus community that may not reach the level of a bias incident, but has an impact or potential impact on campus climate. Vassar’s governance protects an individual’s right to free speech and open expression. However, free speech does not justify discrimination, harassment or speech that may be biased or hateful. Lastly, we report information such as general descriptions and location of the incident when relevant, but we do not report personal identifying information.

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What Happens Following a Report?

BIRT thoroughly reviews each report and reaches out to both affected person(s) and alleged offenders when known. Resources, support and educational interventions are primary response steps. The response team meets weekly and as needed for emergencies, as per our protocols.

BIRT is not responsible for investigating or adjudicating alleged incidents of bias or hate crimes. However, Safety and Security will forward results of their investigations to the Dean of Students Office and/or the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action for determination of disciplinary hearings and action where warranted. When there is a potential hate crime, local law enforcement handles investigations in cooperation with Safety and Security.

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How is Privacy Protected?

BIRT recognizes the importance of balancing an individual’s rights to confidentiality and privacy with the community’s need to know how the college is responding to an incident. All incidents reported to the Bias Incident Response Team shall be handled with privacy and discretion. Any personal information obtained during the response process will be subject to disclosure only to the extent required by law, or as required for the College to respond appropriately.

Confidentiality vs. Transparency

Occasionally, an individual may request anonymity or that information regarding a particular incident not be shared publicly. If there is no potential harm or impact on other individuals or the campus community, BIRT will respect an individual’s right to privacy. In cases where there is a community need to know, BIRT will communicate with the individual to agree on mutually beneficial ways to make public the incident.

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