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“Brown Bag” Conversations on Campus Climate aim to increase open dialogue

By Val Bauer

 

The harassment reporting process was discussed at the third conversation in the Wednesday noontime campus series “Campus Climate Brown Bag Conversations.”

 

Grace Kirchner, Professor of Education, Harassment Reporting Officer (HRO) and Sexual Harassment Complaint Ombudsperson, led the Feb. 1 discussion in the Social Justice Center (SJC), also known as the Sage House. A part of the campus community since 1975, Kirchner has a “deep knowledge of the institution’s history,” Dean and Professor Amy Ryken said.

 

“The goal of these Wednesday noontime gatherings,” the website says, “is to provide a space for students, staff and faculty to engage in dialogue and to learn more about frameworks and actions for creating an inclusive campus climate.”

 

This “dialogue space,” Ryken said, was created to address questions such as: “How is Puget Sound an inclusive campus? How is it not? Who decides what ‘inclusive’ means? How can we navigate the tension of honoring the value of doing no harm and the value of free speech? Can we create shared reference points that highlight the eternal theme of justice? What constitutes harm, and how do we know?”

 

Six faculty members were at the gathering, and no students. When asked about the lack of student turnout at the discussion, Ryken said that “attendance at one meeting does not make a pattern,” and that “it is too early to tell 1) whether or not the conversations are well attended and 2) whether or not students are attending” as this is only the third conversation in the series.

 

Kirchner is also a member of Bias-Hate Education Response Team (BHERT), “a subcommittee formed [by] the Faculty Standing Committee on Diversity,” according to Puget Sound’s website. BHERT’s aim is to “review aggregate data and address the important issue of responding to incidents of bias-hate on our campus.”

 

The discussion was centered around the harassment reporting process, including “the types of incidents that are reported, the various ways in which they are addressed, and how the process has changed over the years,” the Brown Bag Conversation’s webpage says.

 

There is a “perception that the University doesn’t do anything” about complaints of harassment, Kirchner acknowledged. However, many factors complicate this assumption.

 

For one, Kirchner said, “victims are reluctant to file reports.” She does not get reports often, and when she does, sometimes they will be in the form of an anonymous phone call, with no possible way to follow up. When she does get reports, often complainants “know the identity [of the perpetrator] and won’t share,” Kirchner said.

 

In order to maintain confidentiality, many complainants choose not to go through the formal process of filing a report. The University has helpful resources that allow for conversation about coping without reporting: Peer Allies; Sound Advocates; and Counseling, Health, and Wellness Services (CHWS); among others.

 

Ultimately, Professor Rachel DeMotts, who attended the conversation, said, “[the University wants] to create conditions in which people get what they need.” Students have a choice regarding how much information they want to disclose.

 

If complainants disclose identifying information to non-confidential sources, however, said sources “may have to take action,” Kirchner said. This depends on the nature of the complaint. A respondent may have to say something in an instance of harassment or sexual misconduct that involves a faculty member, for example.

 

As of late, the lack of transparency in the student conduct process has garnered the campus community’s attention, especially with the recent controversy surrounding the UPS 3. Given that this is such a relevant topic on our campus, the lack of students in attendance was troubling, especially since this was an given the opportunity to discuss these concerns with faculty members.

 

The harassment reporting process is only one out of many subjects that the weekly Brown Bag Conversations explore. A different subject that relates to our campus climate is chosen and discussed each week. There are many resources on campus to facilitate discussion, and part of education is being involved in the greater community and being aware of the issues within it.

 

The Brown Bag Conversations are one of “many efforts on campus to create a space for authentic exchange and to discuss campus climate,” Ryken said. There are “multiple forums on campus for discussion.”

 

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