If a resident files a complaint about another resident’s speech


    When emotions run high, it is crucial for the community to be heard. Deliberating with community members’ concerns in an earnest way is important. Be active, present, and visible. Amass as much information as possible about the complaint. 


    If you have a bias response system or office on campus, coordinate with them for record-keeping, mediation, and supporting affected students. It is important to ensure such systems record issues of concern in ways that do not constrain student expression. Resident life staff may be on the frontlines of seeing how such systems operate and should develop means of providing feedback to these offices, as appropriate. See PEN America’sCautions and Tips for Bias Response Systems.”


    Ensure that your working definitions in responding to a complaint are clearly aligned with campus policies and the law. Hate, bias, and bullying have real repercussions and harmful effects, yet they have no legal definition and are often colloquially defined in broad, subjective terms. Legal definitions of discrimination, harassment, true threats, and defamation, however, have serious authority and must be standardized in your residence in compliance with the law.


    Being transparent with your residents about how complaints are handled keeps your team accountable, maintains the trust of your residential community, and makes the chilling of free expression less likely. Your complaint management policies should include mechanisms for people to appeal when they feel that they have been treated unfairly, as well as a space for residents to express when they feel a Resident Advisor’s response has overstepped boundaries.


    Punitive responses should be saved for acts that violate campus policies and the law. For hate crimes, harassment, and any other conduct that violates the law, a disciplinary response will be warranted.


    Even when disciplinary action is not appropriate, other responses include counseling, education, or adjusting rooming arrangements could be pursued. 


    Residence life officers and their staff must receive specialized training in legal definitions and instiutitonal policies on free speech, discrimination, and harassment. They should also be trained in mediation for situations involving interpersonal conflicts over speech.