AU Student Government announced a change to the Student Conduct Code on March 3 that includes specific language on handling identity-biased attacks.
The Student Conduct Code now says in Section 16 that “significant factors” in determining sanctions will include “evidence that the respondent’s conduct was motivated by bias towards an individual or group on the basis of real or perceived, race, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin, age, disability, ethnicity, veteran status, or sexual orientation.”
The heads of this change were Director of the Student Advocacy Center junior Will Mascaro and Director of the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group junior Lauren Lumpkin. The process for this change started with Mascaro and Lumpkin, was reviewed by the Conduct Office, then sent to Vice President of Campus Life Dr. Gail Hanson, after which AU’s legal team was consulted and then the change was officially added to the code, according to Mascaro.
The change is a result of the biased attacks against black women on campus last semester, Mascaro said. The idea to change the Conduct Code to protect students against identity-motivated attacks came about in May 2016 when Mascaro became director of the Student Advocacy Center.
“Students should care because now if a student is a victim of a identity-motivated attack, they will know that the perpetrator of that attack is held fully responsible to the full extent of the conduct code, to the full extent of the conduct of their actions,” Mascaro said.
Mascaro and Lumpkin released a video on Friday that details the change. This means that biased motivation will now be considered a factor in conduct cases.
With the policy already changed, this means when perpetrators of acts such as this week's misogynistic posters that were hung across campus are caught, it will be titled as an identity-biased attack in front of the conduct code.
Mascaro previously wrote an op-ed in The Eagle in September 2016 about why he believed that the AU's Conduct Code needs language on hate crimes. Language like this has never been in the Conduct Code before, Mascaro said.
“No longer will an incident of writing a racial slander on a whiteboard be considered simple vandalism,” Mascaro said in an interview with The Eagle. “They did it because of the identity of the person that owned the whiteboard.”
Lumpkin said motives behind these types of incidents will be a part of the conduct process handled in the future.
“When you go through the conduct process, we're going to take into consideration that the victim's identity was targeted - and that will impact sanctioning,” Lumpkin said.
In November 2016, Mascaro and Lumpkin presented a joint-report to Student Government after speaking with students across campus. The two worked mainly with the Black Student Alliance and AU’s chapter of the NAACP, but also reached out to the Muslim Student Association, South Asian Student Alliance, Latin American Student Organization, League of United Latin American Citizen, Women’s Initiative in Student Government, Queers and Allies and the Asian American Student Union.
“We really wanted to make sure that the proposals we were making were rooted in ideas and issues that community members had and believed in,” Mascaro said.
According to Mascaro and Lumpkin, these organizations were given the opportunity to look at the draft report and make changes on it before it went public. SG executives also had the chance to look over the draft, including President Devontae Torriente, Secretary Kris Schneider, and Chief of Staff Josh Gutmaker, according to Lumpkin.
“We tried reaching every stakeholder we could,” Mascaro said.
This change is just one of three policy recommendations mentioned in the report. The second recommendation calls for establishing a full-time staff position that specializes in investigating biased attacks.
Lumpkin said this position would operate similarly to the Title IX Coordinator. The investigative position is dependent on the new budget because it would take money from the university level, so Mascaro said he wants the Office of Campus Life to encourage the budget committee to set aside money for an investigative authority position or other staff members to specialize in investigating these incidences.
He said the requesting process for funds is ongoing and the team is “making the argument” for funding the position. They have not yet set a date to submit this proposal.
“I always believe if we are going to have to deal with the increased tuition rates that the university and the board of trustees owes it to us to see more of that money is going to be invested back into students,” Mascaro said. “And one of the ways to do that is to invest it into the Office of Campus Life.”
The third recommendation asks that the Office of Campus Life regularly reports biased-related incidents on campus to students to keep them informed.
“We think that the community deserves to know what's happening on campus; the good, the bad and the ugly,” Lumpkin said.
Both of these recommendations have been brought to and considered by Gail Hansen and are “moving in a positive direction,” Mascaro said.
“This is a huge victory, and it's the fire we needed to push us through the rest of the semester,” Lumpkin said.
Mascaro agreed and said that this change will better reflect the AU community.
“The way we hold students responsible for their actions is a reflection of the character of this university,” Mascaro said. “So, if we choose not to hold students responsible for blatantly identity-motivated attacks, blatantly racist actions, that’s a reflection on who we are as a community and who we are as a school.”