Saying 'On the Other Hand' Got a Student Reported to the Campus Bias Police

Making too much of a swastika / pumpkin incident at Colby College.


Harshmunjal / Dreamstime

At Colby College, a student informed the campus's Bias Incident Prevention and Response Team that someone had carved a swastika into a pumpkin.

According to the college's bias incident logs, the student was mistaken. The carving wasn't actually a swastika.

This was not the most absurd bias incident in Colby College's archives. Earlier this year, someone filed a report with the BIPR Team after overhearing an offensive figure of speech. The offending phrase: "on the other hand." The BIPR Team's files note that these words were flagged for targeting people on the basis of "ability." I must therefore presume that the person offended by the phrase "on the other hand," possessed only one hand, or thought that a one-handed person might feel triggered by such a proclamation of dual-handedness.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education shares my (growing) concerns that college Bias Response teams—which exist on more than a hundred campuses—are threats to free expression on campus. Heat Street recently noted two cases at the University of Northern Colorado where the bias reporting process made it possible for students to file formal complaints with professors who had broached controversial subjects in the classroom. These professors had to meet with campus administrators about their behavior.

As I wrote recently in an article about bias response teams for The Daily Beast, "A campus where students live in constant fear of becoming the subjects of formal complaints—where everyone is encouraged to collect information on each other and turn it over to the authorities—is not a healthy community."