Jake Bilyeu, Guest Writer

A new team has assembled to combat incidents on campus dealing with the degradation of specific groups of people.

Aiming to entertain, five student athletes from Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., were suspended from their upcoming women’s soccer game after dressing in blackface and afros. Often the cause for suspension would be missing a team meeting or cheating on a class assignment, but this incident went way beyond the norm.

The players said they meant no harm. They wanted to laugh it up while portraying the famous Jackson 5 pop group. The players’ actions went viral and the damage caused to their community wasn’t unnoticed.

With incidents like this happening at Whitworth, Pacific Lutheran University is taking steps in the opposite direction. This year, the Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT) was established on campus to protect students.

Five Whitworth soccer players received a one-game suspension for dressing up in blackface.
Five Whitworth soccer players received a one-game suspension for dressing up in blackface.

The Bias Incident Response Team’s mission is to protect students from any act with the intention of degrading specific groups of people. These actions can come from an individual or group, like the Whitworth situation, or they could arise from a more methodical effort. In either instance, the BIRT will to react in an attempt to educate rather than agitate.

Students have already seen BIRT around campus after the residence hall doorknobs were fashioned with the BIRT mission statement last week.

Stuen Resident Assistant Ian Smith (sophomore) noticed the sign. He said he’s glad PLU has a group that actively prevents offensive and degrading actions.

“Everyone should actively be responding to bias in a way that brings awareness to others about how their words or actions can be exclusive or bias to others,” Smith said. “If we need a response team to bring this awareness then I think it’s a good thing.”

The BIRT is not alone in their fight against biases. Other groups, such as Student Rights and Responsibilities, Campus Safety and the University Dispute and Resolution Committee have also joined in the fight to ensure safety for all Lutes.

Should a situation similar to the Whitworth Jackson 5 scenario arise at PLU, rather than trying to silence the situation, groups like the BIRT aim to educate students about the about the occurrence and reconcile with the offenders.

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