How Colleges and Universities Handle Bias-Motivated Conduct

Every institution of higher education has a dedication to establishing and maintaining a sound learning environment free from disruption. As well, campus communities around the country seek to welcome and respect people from every background. Consequently, actions that are an affront to the equity-driven core values of an institution will not be tolerated.

While violations of policies prohibiting academic and behavioral misconduct may seem severe enough, students committing bias-motivated misbehavior face long-lasting consequences. Discriminatory actions can put a student at risk of suspension or expulsion, even if school disciplinary boards mishandle the situation. Many of the rules and regulations schools have for managing and addressing bias-motivated conduct are from state and federal governments; therefore, there is seldom leniency when misconduct allegations arise.

What Is Bias-Motivated Conduct?

Bias-motivated conduct occurs when a person intentionally discriminates against, harasses, intimidates, or retaliates against another because of an actual or perceived characteristic within a "protected class." The Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects certain groups of people from bias-motivated actions. Protected-class individuals may fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender identity
  • National origin
  • Pregnancy status
  • Religious beliefs
  • Veteran or national service status

While the aforementioned are federally protected classes, many states have their own legislation supporting broader anti-discrimination laws. For example, some states may provide protections against bias-motivated conduct against an individual's political ideology or service in a state militia that is subjected to discriminatory behavior.

Some actions and behaviors that colleges and universities may consider bias-motivated include:

  • Graffiti, unauthorized signage, or other vandalism featuring offensive words or symbols directed toward protected-class individuals. For example, a swastika painted on the dorm room door of a Jewish student.
  • Student clubs prohibiting protected-class individuals from entering or becoming a member of the club. For example, a pregnant student not allowed to attend sorority meetings or parties because of their pregnancy.
  • Targeting an individual or specific group of people for harassment through actions or words. For example, the hanging of a noose from a tree in the front yard of a minority student club, fraternity, or residence hall.

How do Colleges and Universities Address Bias-Motivated Conduct?

Each college and university has an all-encompassing code of conduct—also known as an honor code or student handbook—detailing what the school expects from students, faculty, and staff. When bias-motivated conduct is alleged on campus, typical rules used to handle non-academic misconduct are replaced to for more stringent procedures.

Xavier University will utilize its Harassment Code and Accountability Procedures (HCAP). When a campus community member files a complaint with the school's Affirmative Action Officer (AAO), it will kick off the investigative stage of the process. The AAO has ten days to arrange a meeting with the accuser (complainant) to determine whether to proceed informally with mediation or with formal hearing procedures.

Within ten business days of the initiation of the formal hearing process, the AAO will notify the complainant and the accused (respondent) of the date, time, and location to appear in front of the Hearing Panel. At least five days before the hearing, both parties will be provided evidence the school gathered and will be presented with a list of witnesses within three business days prior.

During proceedings, both parties have the right to present evidence to the Hearing Panel and cross-examine witnesses. Students may select an advisor to assist them during the process, but they may not testify or answer questions from the Hearing Panel on their behalf. The HCAP states that determinations of responsibility will be made based on a preponderance of the evidence.

Other colleges may allow more involvement with local law enforcement, though. For example, at Boston College (BC), bias-motivated conduct can quickly turn into substantiation as a hate crime. The Boston College Police Department (BCPD) will investigate any report from a BC community member, pursuant to its “zero-tolerance policy toward these offenses or any bias-related incident.” Initial intake reports and any supporting documentation, including photographs, witness testimony, emails, or text messages, will be forwarded to the BCPD hate crime investigator assigned to the case.

The investigator will analyze the connection with similar offenses and a “characteristic method” employed by the respondent and consult with off-campus criminal systems experts to resolve the matter. All final investigative reports will be sent to the BC Student Conduct Board for review and subsequent internal action. Critically, BC's bias-related incidents protocol states that any “hate incident” will be recorded for state and federal reporting objectives and investigated as a hate crime.

The Consequences of Bias-Motivated Conduct

If a school disciplinary board determines that someone was responsible for bias-motivated conduct, thus violating the code of conduct, minimum consequences typically result in temporary separation from studies. More than likely, students will be expelled from the school, usually without a chance to reapply, and trespassed from all campus property and school-sponsored events. However, the implications of bias-motivated conduct can stick with students long after their academic years.

Those with a suspension or expulsion on their record must disclose any imposed sanctions for bias-motivated conduct on various forms, such as:

  • Counseling licenses
  • Federal clearances
  • Financial certifications
  • Graduate school applications
  • Law enforcement applications
  • Municipal internships

Why Should You Hire Student Defense Advisor Joseph D. Lento?

Since schools risk damaging their public reputation if they overlook bias-motivated conduct, colleges and universities may move forward hastily. Sometimes colleges and universities misstep their authority and make mistakes in their grievance processes.

Allegations of bias-motivated conduct may be based on inconclusive evidence that may have risen from a form of non-academic misconduct. A student defense advisor will understand how the school's disciplinary board moves through the matter and if the accused student is mistreated.

Student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have handled bias-motivated conduct matters at schools across the country. Due to the countless relationships he has developed with representatives from schools' internal Office of General Counsel, he has repeatedly brokered beneficial resolutions on behalf of his student clients outside formal proceedings. The Lento Law Firm knows how to help college and university officials see positive options serving the student and the school far better than suspension or expulsion. For expert advice, call 888-535-3686 or use the confidential online consultation form.

Contact Us Today!

If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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