Students See Bias Reporting Tool’s Potential But Have Concerns

A student entering the office of diversity, equity and inclusion. Photo by Olivia Brown.

In an email on Feb. 3, director of diversity, equity and inclusion Marlo Thomas wrote to the GDS community that she and her team were piloting a bias incident reporting tool to help further the goal of GDS “becoming an anti-racist institution.” Seven months later, on Sept. 12, the tool was presented to students and faculty during class meetings. 

Thomas’ email said that diversity, equity and inclusion audit results showed the need for prioritizing “the collection of data regarding student incident reporting.” The email also said that purpose of the tool is to give anyone in the community a place to anonymously report incidents of bias and discrimination that they either personally experienced or witnessed. To file a report, a person must fill out a series of questions on the bias incident reporting Google form.

After a report is submitted, the diversity, equity and inclusion office is notified, and it works in partnership with others in the school, such as the grade deans and department chairs, to evaluate the information filed and what to do next. “We meet and plan before we talk to anyone who has been named,” Thomas said. She added that the tool has already been used by both students and adults in the middle school and high school. 

Senior and Student Staff Council (SSC) president Jacqueline Metzger said she believed that GDS has a strong diversity, equity and inclusion program, but “when it comes to the smaller things, like things that make people uncomfortable, we let those things fall through the cracks.” She added that the GDS community could benefit from the tool because she thinks “we need this to keep ourselves in check.” 

However, due to the lack of details during the presentation of the bias incident reporting tool, some students and faculty said they were left with more questions than answers.

Sophomore Paolo Imbroscio said that the tool has the potential to be a good resource, but that the presentation “didn’t really spell out well enough where to find it and what exactly to use it for.”

Thomas acknowledged that “not everybody reads emails, and not everybody was here last year,” so there were likely members of the community who were unaware of the tool or how to use it. She said that some confusion regarding the tool is “natural and normal. What is most important is that folks know that it is available, and it’s accessible to them.”

Metzger agreed with Imbroscio’s sentiment. “There could definitely be more information put out about it, because I think it’s a very important and useful tool,” she said. “But so far, all I’ve heard is—even in SSC and the hallways—people think it’s kind of a joke.” She said she had overheard students make empty threats to file reports against each other.

English teacher John Burghardt was at the junior class meeting when the tool was introduced. “Immediately, I had a bunch of frantic, worried questions,” he said in an interview three days after the meeting. For example, he wanted to know, when a report is filed against someone, if it ends up on their personal record.

Burghardt thought the tool would be more effective if someone who worked in the office of diversity, equity and inclusion had addressed any questions or pieces of feedback from students or faculty prior to it being implemented. “The community has to be prepared before the tool is in place,” he added. 

“My only concern is that as soon as we hear about anonymous reporting and third person reporting,” he said, “we have these nightmare scenarios of Soviet-style citizen policing, and sort of authoritarian responses.” 

Metzger said “there’s always risks” with an anonymous reporting tool. “I was just talking to a friend, and we were discussing what happens if there’s a false accusation,” she said. “It becomes a ‘he said, she said’ type of situation. That’s going to make things worse for everyone.” But for now, she doesn’t think the community is yet seeing “the benefits or the detriments” of the tool. She also said that the reporting form could be “abused.”

The school takes all reports made through the form seriously. On the first page of the form, it says that “reports found to have been intentionally dishonest or made maliciously or without regard for the truth will constitute a violation of School policy as set forth in the policies & expectations for interpersonal relationships.”

When asked if he thought students would use the tool, Imbroscio told the Bit he “would hope so,” but he said that he thought “it might not be used to the fullest extent” due to “difficulties in filling out the report.” He added that he felt access to the tool “could be a lot easier than it seems.”

Sophomore Michael Dobbs said that the tool is a good resource to have, but that he is “never actually using it” because neither he nor the student body takes it seriously. He said he predicts the tool won’t be used frequently by others for the same reason. 

Thomas said that at the end of the 2022–23 school year, the diversity, equity and inclusion office plans to collect data in order to have a better understanding of who is using the tool, how often they are using it and who is finding the most value in it.