By Camille Furst
When Tian-na Green submitted a bias incident report, she had faith that the Office of Student Conduct would have her back. But as the five-hour trial went on, she slowly sank into the feeling that these administrators had a different priority — preserving the College’s reputation.
Green does not think the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (OIDEI) did enough. According to Green, for months since the trial on Nov. 18, 2019, she heard nothing from the OIDEI — not even an email checking in on her.
“I believe they did what they were supposed to do, but I believe after the fact, after the trial, they didn’t do enough to help me,” she said. “They only received justice for the school.”
Green, a senior criminology major, has been racially targeted twice during her time at the College. The first time, during her training to become a CA in August 2019, she and her co-workers were playing the game “Mafia,” where the “narrator” creates and tells a story to correspond with which students get “executed,” and thus taken out of the game. The “narrator,” according to Green, said that the players should “lynch” the individual.
The second incident, which occurred only one month after the first, involved two voices from the roof of the Travers/Wolfe parking garage yelling the N-word at her as she walked toward Townhouses East.
“I think a lot of things happen,” she said. “And a lot of things don’t get heard.”
The OIDEI told The Signal that in the fall of 2018, a total of 31 bias incidents were reported from faculty, staff and students. The number dropped to 21 reports in the spring of 2019, 20 in the fall of 2019 and, in the spring 2020 semester, there have already been eight. According to Interim Vice President of the OIDEI, Ivonne Cruz, the reports range in severity from the reporter hearing a derogatory slur to more egregious incidents like verbal attacks.
At first, Green didn’t know how to respond. After processing what happened during the second incident, she called Campus Police, which found one female and six males on the roof of the parking garage, yet only one of the males was a student at the College, according to Green. Since she only heard male voices, only the male student from the College could be questioned of violating the Student Conduct Code.
Whenever a report is issued to the Office of Student Conduct, the reporter receives an email informing them of a meeting scheduled to discuss the incident and a list of resources provided, including the Dean of Students office, Mental Health Services and the Center for Integrated Wellness.
After Green decided to take the case to trial, the Office of Student Conduct held a five-hour long trial in its Brower Student Center office in November. The administrators read through possible violations the male student could be found guilty for, which included Personal Abuse and Compliance with Directives, which refers to aiding another to violate a College policy, according to Green.
Two witnesses were a part of the trial, and both Green and the alleged perpetrator were able to ask each other questions through a partition about their understanding of the case. According to Green, a lawyer from the College was present.
Personal Abuse, as defined by the Student Conduct Code, consists of a student engaging in conduct that is “so severe or pervasive and objectively offensive that it substantially disrupts or interferes with the orderly operation of the College or the rights of any student or other member of the College community.”
Meanwhile, the Student Conduct Code defines Compliance with Directives as aiding or assisting another in violating College policy. In the same section as the charge, it reads, “students may be held accountable for the actions of their guest.”
The alleged perpetrator in the second incident, while being found guilty for Compliance with Directives, was found not guilty for Personal Abuse charges. Since the records are confidential to protect student privacy and the defendant wasn’t charged for anything on Green’s behalf, it is currently unclear which punishments the student faced, if any.
The Signal reached out to the Office of Student Conduct regarding the case’s status, but Assistant Director of Student Conduct Christine Nye declined to comment.
Green said that she understood that the defendant couldn’t be charged if there wasn’t enough evidence, but she feels that the defendant should be responsible for his guests’ actions regardless of whether the male College student himself was one of the two individuals who yelled the derogatory term.
“Based on what the school’s values are … you’re as guilty as your guests for allowing it to happen,” Green said in an interview with The Signal. “I didn’t really receive justice.”
Holly Gurgurich, a senior elementary education and psychology dual major and a Hall Assistant for Townhouses South, feels that the Residential Education policies should have been reason to find the defendant guilty for his guests’ actions. Gurgurich, aware of other incidents involving underage drinking on campus, said that students are often found just as guilty as their guests for allowing the incident to occur, regardless of if they themselves committed an act against the Student Conduct Code.
“That is the number one thing that we (Residential Education Staff) … push for when thinking about bad things that happen,” Gurgurich said. “If we hold this precedent over other incidents, why don’t we hold it over this one?”
Like Gurgurich, Green believes that the charges should be changed.
“You’re just as guilty as your guests … if you don’t stop them, because you’re in charge of them,” Green said.
While the Office of Student Conduct handled the trial proceedings, the Bias Response Team (BRT) indicates on the College’s website that it “centralizes and facilitates the College’s efforts to track bias incidents, identify trends, collect aggregate data, plan campus educational responses to benefit the community and connect individuals affected by bias incidents with supportive resources.”
Ivonne Cruz, the interim vice president of the OIDEI, distinguished the BRT from the OIDEI by saying the former’s purpose is to collect data to form an aggregate of trends involving bias incidents on campus. On the other hand, the OIDEI is liaison between victims of bias incidents and available resources on campus, she said.
Both the OIDEI and the Office of Student Conduct offered accommodations such as Mental Health Services (MHS), according to Green, which she said ended up being unrealistic due to the long wait periods for an appointment and the lack of counselors that are racial minorities.
After finding out that the OIDEI never reached out to Green after the trial’s conclusion, Cruz and Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Jordan Draper both paused.
“It breaks my heart,” Cruz said.
She stressed that the OIDEI is still readily available to provide support for Green and any other victims that need it.
“There was not a purposeful effort to kind of separate ourselves from her,” she said. “That’s feedback I’m taking, and we’ll go back again as we’re evolving.”
In hindsight, Green feels that the administration did not support her enough as a victim.
“They left out the fact that there was a victim involved, and that something needed to be done for the victim. I think they were more concerned that TCNJ wasn’t seen as the perpetrator,” Green said. “I hate to say that, but that’s how it made me feel.”
Jamal Johnson, the senior assistant director of mentoring and retention, has helped many minority students through the Pride Mentoring Program (PMP) who have come to him seeking support after being racially targeted.
While he described the Bias Response Team and the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (OIDEI) as the administration that deals with “legislation, certain laws, policies, things that have to be followed,” his role on campus is directed more toward promoting personal empowerment.
When asked for his opinion on Green’s case and the lack of response from the OIDEI, he declined to answer as well. He did, however, say that the BRT has done a good enough job supporting students, although “everyone might not be satisfied.”
Although the incident with Green is seen as an anomaly to many in the College community, it is hardly the only one. Johnson said that, last year alone, he has had “five to six” students come to his office for advice and support after being racially targeted on campus.
When Green was the victim of two racial bias incidents in two months, going to the OIDEI felt at first felt like the right thing to do — until she grew “tired of trying to explain (herself).”
“I don’t feel like enough was done to help me, so if I ever had a problem again, I wouldn’t even want to go through this process again,” Green said.
Many students, however, continue to believe in the positive effects the OIDEI has on the campus community. McKenna Samson, a junior English and African American studies double major and the president of the NAACP chapter at the College, feels that the OIDEI and the BRT help to empower minority students by giving them a platform to speak.
“I think that the implementation of the Bias Response Team … is very well meaning, (it) has a great mission,” she said. “They did a lot in terms of student outreach (and) making kids feel included.”
But after hearing for the first time about its alleged lack of a proper response in Green’s case, Samson hesitated.
“It’s not something I expected to hear,” she said. “Yeah. I’ll leave it at that.”