Candidate for Bias Incident Support Services head talks transparency, cultural humility

Dr. Van Bailey at a virtual meeting with university community members in December. (Brent Abel/For The Diamondback)

The last of the four candidates for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s Bias Incident Support Services director met with University of Maryland community members Friday to give students a better understanding of his approach to dealing with acts of hate and discrimination on campus.

Dr. Van Bailey, who currently serves as assistant dean and director of diversity and inclusion at George Mason University, is the final candidate for the position. He has established centers for LGBTQ students at the University of Miami and Harvard. Last year, Bailey was named one of the top LGBTQ leaders under 40 by Business Equality magazine. 

“There is no way that I, even as a Black trans person, know any and everything that there is about identity. I have to be curious,”  Bailey said. “I have to remain in the state of constantly learning, and that that’s the beautiful thing about being on a college campus.”

At the start of his presentation, Bailey made a land acknowledgment, paying respect to the Piscataway people on whose ancestral lands the university now stands.

“Take a moment to consider the many legacies of violence, displacement, migration and settlement that brings us here today,” Bailey said. 

Bailey focused on the importance of community engagement and transparency throughout his presentation.

[Finalist for Bias Incident Support Services head talks campuswide trauma-informed training]

He also spoke about the difference between cultural competence training and cultural humility. Where cultural competence is a skill set for interacting with people from different cultures, he said, cultural humility is an “ongoing process of self exploration and self-critique” that emphasizes willingness to learn from other people and to honor and acknowledge the differences in their beliefs, customs and values.

“Cultural humility literally says, ‘We need and must show up better,’” he said.

Bailey said he has dealt with incidents ranging from graffiti with hate speech, to Black parties reporting heavier policing of their parties compared to Greek life events, to a student death on the campus. This university created its hate bias response program in the wake of the murder of Bowie State student 1st Lt. Richard Collins on the campus in 2017. 

Bailey added that social media is critical for providing transparency about the response to bias incident reports. Bailey said he has hosted Instagram livestreams and Twitter town halls in the past to engage and inform community members.  

“The ongoing nature of social media creates the urgency, because you have to continuously have to constantly be engaged in it,” he said.

[Second finalist for UMD Bias Incident Support Services director talks education, healing]

In addition to his position at George Mason, Bailey is also a consultant who works to help universities identify the holes in their diversity and inclusion efforts. One of the common issues he has identified has been that many universities “bury” their bias incidents reports so it is difficult to understand the history of trauma at the school, Bailey said.

“It should be on the first things that pop up when I Google it,” he said.

After Bailey’s presentation, he fielded questions from the audience, including one about tracking the success of actions taken after a bias incident and another about addressing antisemitism in diversity initiatives. Bailey said he wants to emphasize proper education about antisemitism, which is often not addressed in diversity and inclusion efforts. He has always included Jewish organizations in diversity councils to promote building coalitions on campus.  

“The person in this position will have to navigate urgency and panic across the board, whether that might be amongst administrators or students,” Bailey said.

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