What is Bias?

Here we define the word 'bias' and other related terms.

What Is Bias?

Hate crimes and bias incidents are different from other kinds of crimes/incidents in that they are meant to be “message crimes/acts.” That is, they often target an individual, but they are meant as a message to the whole group to which the target belongs. The perpetrator is attempting to send an intimidating message that the target/group is unwelcome or unwanted. As such, these acts are an assault on a community that values inclusion, diversity and social justice. While such acts may be focused on one individual making them feel at risk of danger and/or unwanted in the larger community, these acts often negatively impact many others within our community.

Bias Incidents

Bias-related incidents seem like a murky ground to traverse. Can’t anything be based in bias? For our purposes, we are using the following definition:

Bias-related incidents are completed, attempted, or threatened abusive or hostile acts against persons, property, or an institution that involve a target, or targets, selected on the basis of an individual’s or group’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, age, gender, ethnic/regional/national origin group, nationality, disability status, sex or sexual orientation (including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender). (From the University of Dayton, Bias Response Team)

Hate Crime

On the other hand, a Hate Crime is when someone commits an act that rises to the legal definition of a crime, while expressing the same biases listed above. (For instance, a perpetrator damaging property by writing racist graffiti, assaulting a person while using racial or homophobic epithets, etc.)

Hate Speech and Free Speech

An area of concern, but one which is particularly difficult for universities to deal with, is the area of “Hate Speech.” This area is difficult because of the nation’s deep commitment to free speech and all universities’ particular focus on free speech as a major component in the university learning environment. We believe that we can both maintain respect for free speech and engage a fruitful concern for “hate speech.” With this in mind, we define Hate Speech as:

Hate speech is speech, text, images (written/spoken) presented in public that are designed to incite hatred, violence, contempt, or severe ridicule towards, or to intimidate or create terror or fear among members of racial, religious, or other groups (such as sexual minorities).

The UWF community values the freedom of expression rights guaranteed to all individuals in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. While some acts of bias or hate may be violations of the law and/or University policy, many may be considered speech protected by the First Amendment; which allows for the expression of hateful and intolerant statements and expressive conduct. In such cases, no formal action can be taken against the offending person or persons. However, the University has an obligation and the right to respond to such incidents in a manner consistent with the role of promoting a climate of tolerance, respect, inclusion and dialogue. Having an ongoing discussion of what constitutes bias and hate speech, in the context of the preservation of free speech, is an imperative part of the process of creating and maintaining a just and inclusive learning community.


The term “Target” refers to the person, persons, or community(ies) that has experienced the bias or hate incident or at whom the act was aimed. Given the nature of the incidents, there are often multiple targets possible in a specific incident. For instance, a specific person could be one target; a larger identity community to which they belong could be the second target.

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