Student activists at Oklahoma State University want the school's bias response team to have the power to punish students for racially insensitive statements.
"We submit that that the university make an amendment to the student code of conduct's social justice legislation section to add language that will make 'racially insensitive and/or racist rhetoric and behavior made public knowledge' a punishable action," wrote the students, who call themselves "The Four Percent."
The statement went on to say the bias response team should have the ability to impose sanctions on students who violate the "social justice" aspects of the code. The activists also called for diversity training, the renaming of certain buildings, and the hiring of more staff members of color.
University President Burns Hargis has not responded specifically to the request for the bias response team to police racist speech, though he did tell Campus Reform that he is committed to "reviewing the ideas presented by the students." But any review of the bias response team should result in a decision to give it less power, not more.
Bias response teams, which exist on more than 100 campuses, commonly consist of students, faculty, and sometimes campus safety officers. They provide a means for students to report each for committing "microaggressions"—often trivially insensitive words and actions that weren't intended to provoke offense. Several studies and surveys suggest that a significant number of marginalized students aren't actually offended by such statements.
Some campuses have rightly determined that bias response teams threaten academic freedom and free expression; the University of North Colorado shut down its team two years ago after determining that it had become too easy for the perpetually offended to wage war on the First Amendment. Oklahoma State should carefully consider whether it really wants to move in the opposite direction.