Stephanie Tate | Editor-in-Chief
The Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT) exists “to be a mechanism by which members of the campus community can report biased incidents,” according to Reggie Barnes, the coordinator of BIRT and the senior director of the campus community centers. BIRT is a product of a partnership between the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity (OIED) and the Division of Academic and Student Affairs (DASA).
BIRT was not necessarily created in response to any specific incidents at NC State but rather because it was recommended by senior leaders as an initiative in the fall of 2015. According to Barnes, a number of senior leaders were appointed to serve on BIRT in December of 2015 but the entire structure of the team was reconceptualized when he was hired by the university in the summer of 2016.
There are currently two levels to BIRT, one of which is the initial review team. The initial review team is comprised of individuals from the Office of Student Conduct, NC State University Police Department, the university’s general counsel and the Office of Equal Opportunity. This team reviews any incidents reported and then makes recommendations for further action.
Recommendations from the initial review team then lead to the second level of BIRT where other campus entities are involved. The second level is “a list of people called upon to provide direct support for individuals impacted by biased incidents,” according to Barnes. For example if an individual experienced a biased incident in their residence hall, University Housing would be contacted. Or if a student was to experience some sort of harassment they may be referred to the NC State Counseling Center.
If deemed necessary, BIRT would be responsible for facilitating any restorative action between the impacted individual and the person responsible for the biased incident. Restorative action can take many different forms, from a simple conversation between the parties involved to community education programs. According to Barnes, “If it seems like there is a pattern of particular types of incidents, we would partner with other campus offices to provide community education and broader campus wide initiatives.”
Because BIRT is not investigative, the team makes a point to advocate for due process and forward any incidents that might rise to the standard of criminality to the NC State University Police Department, the Office of Student Conduct and OIED.
BIRT was a topic of conversation at the most recent Student Government Racial Climate Town Hall, which followed on the heels of a racial scandal that involved students at NC State using racial slurs in the messaging app GroupMe. According to Barnes, BIRT will not be responsible for punishment for issues of free speech. However, Barnes does recognize that “protected speech can negatively impact individuals. Which is why BIRT will work to help individuals see the impact of their statements and provide them with education.”
BIRT has yet to make an official launch and the team is currently addressing incidents as they can. According to Barnes the official launch is set to take place in a few weeks after the online reporting form is connected to their website.
So far BIRT has not had to conduct any restorative practices and Barnes could not yet provide concrete numbers on how many incidents had been reported to BIRT. “Because there was a lack of clarity about how and where incidents should be reported, incidents were reported elsewhere and I am still sorting through all that information,” Barnes said. Barnes wants students to understand that “We are not purposed with stopping all negative responses and comments, but to bring understanding to certain topics. We are definitely committed to supporting all students who are impacted by incidents that happen on campus.”