By Joy Moton | Staff Writer
In the midst of heightened fear and hate crimes across the country, Baylor students have a place to turn.
The Bias Motivated Incident Support Team (BMIST) is a committee of faculty and staff that advises students who deal with issues surrounding discrimination or bias. The idea for the committee was proposed in 2008 by the office of the president to guide students through the process of handling discriminatory incidents.
“We as a group are so committed to the idea of being an inclusive campus and making sure that people don’t endure issues like this without someone who can help them try to find a resolution,” said Dr. Kim Kellison, associate dean for humanities and social sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences and member of BMIST.
The committee provides a safe place for students to talk about their experience with faculty and staff who are willing to listen. It also presents an opportunity for faculty to facilitate discussion with other parties that may be involved so that reconciliation can be reached.
“Part of the mission for Baylor, generally, not just for students but for it’s faculty and staff, is a commitment to serve others,” said Scott Varda, associate professor in the department of communication and member of BMIST. “This is one of the places that we feel like we can best fulfill our duty to serve other people.”
Varda said the majority of the cases the team handles involve ignorance rather than blatant hatred. The committee helps guide discussion to find clarity and resolve issues.
“It’s possible to actually see personal growth that allows someone to both recognize that they did wrong and legitimately apologize to the wronged party for that wrongdoing,” Varda said.
BMIST also serves to advise students on which campus resources could aid their situation the best.
“Because it’s sort of confusing as to where I should go if something were to happen to me, I think one of the best parts of the team is the ability to say when this is beyond the scope of what we do, we will direct you to a more appropriate office,” Varda said.
The members of BMIST document cases over time in an effort to eventually enact structural changes on campus to reduce discriminatory incidents.
“When something happens and when bias occurs, that isn’t just something that happens to one student,” said Leslie Hahner, associate professor in the department of communication and member of BMIST. “That story creates an impulse for change at a larger, structural, administrative level.”
The committee has calculated trends surrounding discriminatory incidences to create changes in terms of how to advise various groups and agencies on campus, Hahner said. Students who encounter ambiguous situations surrounding discrimination or bias can contact the committee by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s really difficult to navigate a university. It’s even more difficult when you feel like you’re alone and that this massive, blank-faced institution doesn’t necessarily care about you as an individual,” Hahner said. “We are here to help you feel like you’re not alone, and we are here to help you in that process to navigate all of these really difficult options with a little bit more ease and comfort.”
*Editor’s note: This story was corrected at 10 a.m. on Jan. 26 to show correct spelling of Leslie Hahner’s name, the correct title of the Bias Motivated Incident Support Team and the correct title of Dr. Kim Kellison.