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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?

The Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT) convenes to ensure that affected student(s) and others have access to appropriate support and to assist the College a coordinated campus response to bias-related incidents and situations that may impact campus climate. The primary functions of BIRT are to respond, support and communicate to the campus when an incident warrants. While the core team meets immediately after an incident report, the broader BIRT resource meets periodically to discuss trends, campus impacts, and may suggest other campus responses.

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Who are the Bias Incident Response Team members?

The Bias Incident Response Team includes the following administrators, faculty and students. A smaller core team meets as soon as possible following a report incident to assess.

2017-18 Resource Team

  • Elizabeth Aeschilimann, Director for Jewish Life and Assistant Director for Religious and Spiritual Life
  • Tamar 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, 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 Squillace, Associate Director of Safety and Security
  • Candice Swift, Associate Professor of Anthropology
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How is a report reviewed?

When BIRT receives a report, the content is reviewed by core team members 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 core team members thoroughly reviews each report and reaches out to both affected person(s) and alleged offenders when known. When a report is believed to reflect bias, BIRT takes steps to respond, record the incident and, when warranted, communicate to the campus.

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How is privacy and confidentiality 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 are 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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