Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT)

Definition of a Bias Incident

A bias incident is described as any behavior or act—verbal, written or physical—which is personally directed against or targeted toward an individual or group based on perceived or actual characteristics such as race, color, religion, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, national or ethnic origin, disability or veteran status. Behavior reflecting bias may or may not constitute a violation of Westfield State University policy or constitute a crime (i.e. hate crime). Events that may constitute a bias incident include, but are not limited to, threatening telephone calls or messages (including e-mail and social media), graffiti, physical assault, sexual assault or abuse, stalking, vandalism, destruction of personal property, harassment, or coercion.

Individuals who have been subject to or have information about a bias incident are encouraged to report it using this link:

Report an incident

The purpose of BIRT is to oversee these bias response procedures as they relate to two primary areas of focus–Individual Response and Community Response–discussed in greater detail below. These Procedures provide both guidance to the University for responding to bias incidents as well as informing the campus community of how the University may respond to bias incidents.  

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN BIRT RECEIVES A BIAS REPORT?

  1. All reports of bias will be directed to the Equal Opportunity Officer (EO Officer), most often through Residence Life or Public Safety.
     
  2. The EO Officer will make a decision whether to immediately notify BIRT by e-mail, text and/or phone, using the following questions, for example, as guidance:
     
    • Does the bias incident involve actual or potential violence or significant actual or potential disruption to the University?
    • Does the bias incident involve multiple people and/or actions that effect multiple people directly?
    • Are there fearful or agitated victims of the bias incident that require immediate emotional support?
    • Is there continuous and on-going bias behavior occurring?
    • Do other circumstances exist that would compel the EO Officer to assemble BIRT?

Bias incidents that do not require immediate notification will be forwarded to the team for informational purposes with the possibility for follow up, if necessary.

Information presented to the team will be handled confidentially, to the greatest extent possible, and to the extent permitted by law.

3.  BIRT will focus on two primary areas, Individual Response and Community Response, both of which may occur separately or in combination with one another.

Individual Response

In the event an incident is reported that does not involve the filing of a formal complaint against another party or parties, (i.e. anonymous and isolated incident of graffiti) outreach to the reporting parties will occur related to safety, counseling, student life support and/or academic support. As appropriate or possible, parties may also be informed of the provisions of the Equal Opportunity, Diversity and Affirmative Action Plan (EO Plan) along with other appropriate resources.

In the event of an incident that does involve a formal or informal complaint against another party or parties, all parties will directed to the EO Officer for handling under the Equal Opportunity, Diversity and Affirmative Action Plan including the Investigation and Resolution Procedures summarized in appendix 4 of the EO Plan.

Due to privacy laws, final outcomes related to an investigation into an individual(s) behavior may not become public.

Community Response

A community response, if appropriate, will occur after an assessment of the bias incident by BIRT and its recommendation to appropriate individuals or offices for the development of a timely action plan designed to provide information, education, and support to the community. This may include the following:

  • Provide additional support for those directly affected by the bias incident
  • Student/campus forum
  • Campus notices and fact sharing as appropriate (e.g. campus newspaper article, e-mail alerts, text notification, fliers, website updates, etc.)
  • Educational programming
  • Response to the media, if appropriate
  • Personal counseling for students
  • Town hall meetings
  • Speaker rallies
  • Policy revision recommendations