A new collaboration of campus partners called the Cougar Inclusion Team hopes to help create a more welcoming and inclusive environment at the College of Charleston through a reporting form where members of the CofC community can raise concerns of possible exclusion or bias.
The primary functions of the Cougar Inclusion Team (CIT) are to provide support and educational outreach as well as to track the number and type of incidents reported. The CIT is comprised of staff and faculty members from the Office of Institutional Diversity (OID), the Division of Student Affairs, the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, the Office of Multicultural Student Programs and Services, the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs as well as student representatives. The team will also engage other offices on campus for additional information and support regarding a reported incident.
A new website housed on the OID webpage provides information about the team and its work and includes an online form where reports can be submitted either anonymously or with the reporter’s name and contact information. Students, faculty and staff will have the option of submitting an incident as an information-only report or requesting a member of the CIT contact them for further information and support.
Jeri Cabot, dean of students, says there were two basic reasons for establishing the Cougar Inclusion Team.
“One reason is that our stated values at the College call upon us to fight for equity, inclusion and diversity and student-centeredness. Bringing our values to life means we work to know when the values are affronted and offer support to those who want to bring those affronts to a halt,” says Cabot. “The other reason is that to operate an institution of higher education effectively entails knowing the campus culture and the possible flashpoints around social justice and cultural identities. The goal is to help support the well-being of individual members of the CofC community as well as the campus as a whole.”
The CIT’s purpose is to provide education and foster an inclusive community. The team does not conduct investigations or impose any discipline. Concerns of possible discrimination or harassment will be shared with the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs for review and further action, as appropriate. Concerns of violations of any College policy will be shared with the appropriate office.
Types of incidents that may be reported include the following:
- Damage/destruction of property
- Physical harassment/assault
- Verbal/written statements
- Email/online statements
The nature of an exclusion that may be reported could include the following:
- Economic background
- Gender identity/expression
- Sexual orientation
- National origin
- Veteran status
- Associational preferences (organization affiliations)
The intention of collecting reports of possible bias or exclusion is not about inhibiting free speech, says Rénard Harris, CofC’s vice president of access and inclusion and chief diversity officer, but rather an effort to help members of the campus community be more thoughtful in the words they choose.
“We fully support freedom of speech, but we also support responsibility of speech,” says Harris. “We have no interest in infringing upon anyone’s freedom of speech, but we have great interest in educating the community to exercise speech and actions that don’t exclude or offend members of our community.”
When a report is submitted, a member of the CIT will acknowledge receipt of the report and offer to meet with the student, faculty or staff member to discuss the range of support and resources available. Responses to reports will vary depending on the nature and severity of the event, and can include informing the reporter about appropriate offices on campus that can offer support to mediating voluntary restorative conversations between the harmed individual and the person(s) who engaged in the harm.
“We hope to achieve day–to–day practice of our core values through our language and actions toward one another. The College of Charleston is a community of varying perspectives, thoughts and ideas. But we should all take account and awareness that those perspectives, thoughts and ideas should be enveloped in respect, integrity and care,” says Harris. “Being conscious of voice and behavior invites diversity and inclusion because, in a healthy environment, more voices are added and individuals can contribute in a meaningful way.”