Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Monday, May 27, 2019

Students call for changes to the conduct code to address racist incidents

AUSG passes a resolution that calls for a stricter interpretation of the conduct code

Students call for changes to the conduct code to address racist incidents

After a viral video of a student saying the n-word spread online two weeks ago, many in the campus community are calling for changes to the Student Conduct Code, in relation to bias incidents.

AU Student Government Senator Analyza Jenkins and four other senators proposed a resolution stating that the incident “clearly violated the code of conduct” and asked that the university fully executes the code of conduct and have the student removed from AU housing. 

In the resolution, the senators call on the university to “show a precedent that they are unwilling to accept these behaviors.” The resolution said that vague statements are not sufficient to create an inclusive campus climate.

“There's a difference between freedom of speech and hate speech,” Jenkins said.

Sarem Haq, director of the Center for Advocacy & Student Equity (CASE), says that the University should strengthen the language within the code in order to make bias language a clear violation of the code. 

CASE is a department within AUSG responsible for helping students through various individual adjudicative processes as well as provide advocates for students. Haq said that CASE has been advocating for these changes to the conduct code for about two years.

“We want the university to take a more serious approach to bias incidents, specifically by using the conduct code to hold people accountable,” Haq said.

Haq adds he thinks that it is doable to prohibit bias incidents and racist language with the conduct code, as other universities have made similar adjustments. He suggested a tier system to implement punishment to students who violate bias incident rules.

“The University needs to actively try to make it clear to this student and really every student that it's not acceptable to use this language that there are real punishments,” Haq said, “What those punishments are should be dependent on the situation.”

Haq said that while the University adopted the code to take bias incidents into consideration as an aggravating factor, the administration has not been receptive to ideas about adding bias language to the code as a violation.

University spokesperson Kelly Alexander said the current code of conduct does not prohibit hate speech alone and only takes disciplinary action when bias language is used in conjunction with other violations of the code.

Alexander added that the code doesn’t prohibit specific words “even when they are abhorrent” without also considering the circumstances in which they are spoken.

The Student Conduct Code is revised each year to review policies, procedures and recently, to make recommendations to enhance the process of reporting and responding to bias, Alexander said. 

“Community input is valued in making recommendations for changes,” she said.

Alexander adds that freedom of expression is a reason to not change this policy, saying “these policies and procedures were devised with consideration to the university’s commitment and policy on Freedom of Expression Guidelines.” 

In an email to the campus community sent out on April 10, President Sylvia Burwell condemned racist language. 

“We cannot separate a racist word from its context or from the pain it causes members of our community,” President Burwell said.  “Racist language does not reflect our values.”

Christopher Petrella, the Director of Advocacy and Strategic Partnerships at AU’s antiracism center, also released a statement condemning the events. 

“Antiracism is not a luxury; it is not a theoretical exercise,” he said. “Symbolic or physical violence and/or threats to the full humanity of members of any BIPOC community, at American University or otherwise, cannot stand.”

aveitch@theeagleonline.com 


Never miss a story.

Get our weekly newsletter in your inbox.