University of Iowa to Create Bias Response Team

IOWA CITY, Iowa ― The University of Iowa says it expects to have a bias assessment response team in place on campus by the end of the current semester.

The Iowa City Press-Citizen reports that the proposed team, which would be known as BART, would address complaints of racial or other bias on campus concerning incidents that “skirt the line between a policy violation or even a crime.”

The school’s chief diversity officer, Georgina Dodge, said Wednesday that the team will be somewhat modeled after one at Ohio State University, where she previously directed the Department of African American and African Studies Community Extension Center. Dodge said that team would have to be specific to the University of Iowa’s culture, “And that is something that is going to mean pulling everybody in and having a discussion.”

“We do need to differentiate between free speech and hate speech,” said Dodge, who also is on the Board of Directors for ACLU Iowa. “I think there are ways that people can abuse freedom just as they can abuse any other gift that they’re given. I think that a BART will help us keep people informed of when they are walking over that line.”

The response team’s creation comes in the aftermath of an art display on campus depicting a Ku Klux Klan robe displayed by a visiting art professor without the university’s permission in December 2014. The artist said the sculpture was meant to raise awareness about racism in the United States.

The incident sparked a debate over conflicts between the university’s commitment to academic freedom and its responsibility to create a safe and inclusive environment for all students.

The display was ultimately removed.