Students are inherently biased, at least the white ones, and they would demonstrate less bias, even on a microscopic scale, if they could be threatened with arrest or expulsion, says a professor from the University of Mississippi.
Associate professor of Sociology and African American Studies Kirk Johnson spoke with the College Dix this week, and explained that the university needs a more forceful and aggressive Bias Incident team – one with more powers. Ideally, those speech monitors would have the power to expel or even arrest students who showed bias, even microaggressions.
According to Johnson if students “faced the possibility of being suspended from school, or being arrested under federal or state hate-crime statutes, I suspect they would police themselves more vigorously,”
“Our BIRT system is toothless to the extent that students who violate the University of Mississippi creed face no punishment. As a result, there is little incentive for students to take responsibility for their actions.”
According to Johnson, those students who are called out by the bias team should risk actual arrest – but he is unclear as to who determines what bias is. The University of Mississippi has a Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT) in place, that lets both students and faculty members report others accused of showing some kind of bias.
A bias incident, according to BIRT, is one that is a “a behavior or act that targets an individual or group based on perceived or actual characteristics such as, but not limited to, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, disability, or age.”
Some incidents that would be considered bias (and an arrestable offense if Johnson gets his way) include:
- Images, drawing or graffiti that is offensive
- Calling someone an offensive name
- Posting in a biased manner on social media
- Microaggressions — tiny examples of discriminatory thought or speech
Basically, bias on the University of Mississippi campus is anything BIRT says it is. Campus response systems set up by faculty and students around the country have been accused of suppressing free speech, as students are afraid to speak up or act in a way that could trigger sanctions by one of these subjective and arbitrary committees.
At least two schools are already facing lawsuits about their bias response teams – the University of Illinois and the University of Texas are both dealing with First Amendment lawsuits. The University of Michigan removed its bias team entirely after coming to terms with a free speech lawsuit.
Both the University of Illinois and the University of Texas currently face First Amendment lawsuits challenging their bias response teams on the grounds that they chill campus speech.
Despite these issues, Professor Johnson and others like him think that free speech should be restricted on campus, and that arbitrarily appointed bias teams without oversight should be set up to determine what should be allowed and what could trigger an expulsion or arrest.