This week marks the fifth and final installment of my column discussing lesser-known corners of the 2011/2012 Student Handbook. Beginning next week, The Sojourn will publish a five-week guest column from Andrew Parker, dean for student conduct and community standards at Indiana Wesleyan University, responding to each of my five topics sequentially.
To punctuate my commentary on the handbook, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss IWU’s umbrella nondiscrimination clauses.
“Because of our scriptural belief in the worth and dignity of persons,” states Page 19, “each member of the community is expected to be sensitive to special needs existing in our society and on our campus. Therefore, discrimination against others on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, age, sex, socioeconomic status, or handicap is a violation of our Biblical principles.”
The “access, equity, diversity statement” found on Page 20 specifies certain discriminatory acts as inappropriate for IWU community members:
“Acts of racism, hazing, sexism, bigotry, harassment, and violence are not acceptable behaviors from either employees or students of Indiana Wesleyan University. Persons found involved in such behaviors may be dismissed from the institution.”
Racism and sexism tie in directly with the “Do Not Discriminate” clause from Page 19, but “hazing” apparently required some further explanation in the eyes of IWU’s administration – and appropriately so. Page 23 cites Indiana law to define “hazing” and demonstrate its illegality:
“For the purposes of this policy ‘Hazing’ means forcing someone, with or without their consent; and as a condition of association with a group or organization; to perform an act, in any context and anywhere, whether the act be physical, mental, emotional or psychological, which subjects another to anything which may abuse, mistreat, degrade, humiliate, discomfort, ridicule, harm, or intimidate.”
Harassment and violence are pretty commonly understood discriminatory acts involving a violation of a victim’s physical security, whether perceived or actual. But the unexpected word in that list above is “bigotry.”
According to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, a bigot is “a person who holds blindly and intolerantly to a particular creed, opinion, etc.” or “a narrow-minded, prejudiced person.”
“Bigotry” and “intolerance” are synonyms. But they are fraternal, not identical, twins.
Rules, by their very nature, define certain behaviors as unacceptable or intolerable. I used to wonder, then, if rule books, which are necessary instances of codified intolerance, are not by their very nature bigoted. I used to wonder whether making a moral claim automatically rendered the claimant a bigot.
I then learned that “bigotry” carries with it connotations of violence and hatred, typically directed toward an identifiable group of people. So IWU’s rules against otherwise-legal alcohol consumption, for instance, are not bigoted because they are not motivated by hatred.
I am genuinely comforted by this realization, that the handbook outlaws all hatred-based actions directed toward all people, whether the policy specifically classifies them or not.
The drafters of IWU’s handbook apparently recognized how important the wording of this diversity statement is to a campus community. Too broad a clause could be interpreted as a form of extreme tolerance in which any moral claim is invalid, whereas too strict a definition would leave unintended gaps with unprotected groups of people.
The question for future handbook amendments is simpler to ask than it is to answer: Does the specificity of the nondiscrimination policy adequately protect all of IWU’s constituents from undue one-sidedness, or should it be amended?
This is a question that members of the IWU community members should ask themselves each and every year.
“Any persons who believe they are the object of such behaviors should speak to division chairpersons, resident directors, counselors or supervisors,” states Page 20 of the handbook. “If satisfactory resolution is not found, grievances may be filed in the manner indicated in the employee handbooks, the faculty handbook, or the university catalog.”