Williams College is one of at least 100 campuses with a system in place for students to report each other for saying or doing something slightly offensive. These trivially disturbing occurrences are known as "bias incidents"—and at Williams, virtually anything could qualify.
According to the Massachusetts college's website, "name-calling and stereotyping" are examples of bias. Telling a joke that draws its humor from a stereotype is also wrong. Students shouldn't use slurs, or the word "gay" as an insult, or display "a sign that is colorcoded pink for girls and blue for boys," or imitate someone's "cultural norm or practice."
And since religion and political affiliation are considered protected classes for the purposes of categorizing bias incidents, the following kinds of expression are also considered verboten:
Making comments on social media about someone's disability, ethnicity, race, national origin, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, religion, or political affiliations/beliefs
Writing on a white board about someone's disability, ethnicity, national origin, race, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, religion, or political affiliations/beliefs
Drawing or creating pictures that imitate, stereotype, or belittle/ridicule someone because of their gender, gender expression, race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, faith, or political affiliation
Mocking someone's disability on Twitter would be awful. "Making comments on social media" about another person's religious or political beliefs isn't remotely similar. Some people's religious and political beliefs should be discussed, challenged, and even mocked. As the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker once observed, "that's the difference between a university and a madrassa."
As The College Fix noted in a recent article about Williams' bias reporting procedures, the college's website correctly distinguishes between a bias incident and a hate crime, explicitly telling students that the former is not a crime. Still, the website claims that bias incidents are "abhorrent and intolerable" and that any people who think they're victims of, or witnesses to, such an episode should feel free to report it to the proper authorities: the Dean of the College, the Office of Strategic Planning and Diversity, counselling services, or even campus security.
It bears repeating that the theory behind bias reporting systems—that relatively trivial slights, known as microaggressions, can negatively impact students' educational experience if left unaddressed—is scientifically unsound. In his review of the research concerning microaggressions, the Emory clinical psychologist Scott Lilienfeld found little evidence of such a connection between microaggressions and psychological trauma. And when the Cato Institute polled minority students about whether various microaggressions offended them, most said nope.