BHERT aims to end public bias and vandalism

“I feel like I am treated differently because of my height.” “I have heard a lot of jokes about my red hair.” “People think differently about me when I tell them I am a devout Jew.” “I notice a lot of people throwing sideways glances at me as they walk by.” “Whenever I tell someone I am bisexual, they take me less seriously.” “I feel like I don’t fit in at the University.”
Discrimination is a community issue. It is not exclusive to racial discrimination. It can include social or economic status, religion, political beliefs, physical ability or disability, cultural identification, language, and more. It can affect anyone and, despite being a progressive establishment, Puget Sound is not immune.
On Thursday, students received an email from Chief Diversity Officer and Dean of Diversity and Inclusion Mike Benitez about the Bias and Hate Education Response Team (BHERT), stating intentions for “an awareness campaign aimed at addressing non-verbal public bias and related vandalism on campus.” The e-mail was a response to several instances of public bias vandalism in Wyatt Hall. Whether the vandalism was in jest or malignant in nature, its creators have crossed an unacceptable line in the Puget Sound community.
The Puget Sound Confessions Page on Facebook is often criticized for its anonymous format and its sometimes abusive content. While the page does not constitute vandalism, it does occasionally present public bias. Some of this content bridges on racist or egregiously sexist, and a significant amount of it specifically addresses students at the University with aggressive language. Censorship of the Confessions page is practically impossible, so it must be a community effort to reduce the amount of abusive language on the page.
There are strict policies at the University regarding non-verbal public bias and vandalism, but as long as there is ignorance about the destructive power of hate speech there will always be problems in the community. Carelessness in written or verbal communication can lead to psychological damage when students do not know the difference between “joking” and “hate speech.”
Puget Sound prides itself as a diverse community and puts special emphasis on a safe, inclusive environment. Public bias and vandalism discourage a safe environment for students with unique identities. Most cases of vandalism, such as writing on desks or in bathroom stalls, are most likely petty pranks that have no intention of actually harming other students, but it is impossible to know the intentions of the person who anonymously writes hate speech. BHERT’s awareness campaign will hopefully address ignorance about these seemingly innocuous actions and will lead to a healthier, safer environment.
The University hosts events throughout the year to increase awareness and respect for students with unique identities. The Diversity Center’s Spectrum series this year will seek to celebrate these differences and bring cultures together by putting on events such as holding an event enjoying food from Central America, Central and Eastern Europe and Asia. These kinds of events are paramount in increasing cultural understanding and respect in our community.