Hate Speech and Course Evaluations

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How do you balance the need for students to offer anonymous feedback on courses with the need to protect faculty from hate speech?


One of my colleagues in English received some extremely disturbing comments on his course evaluations for one of his classes this past fall.  Here at Florida Atlantic University, as at many schools, I imagine, students complete these evaluations anonymously in order to protect them from any possible grade reprisals; the evaluations are also only released the next semester once all the grades are in and done.  Just recently, we’ve also moved to online evaluations, an uneasy transition, but one which makes it even easier for students to offer feedback unconnected to anything recognizable like handwriting.


We don’t have any specific policies regarding hate speech, though the Student Code of Conduct does prohibit “Acts of verbal, written (including electronic communications) or physical abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, coercion or other conduct which threaten the health, safety or welfare of any person.”  We also have an Anti-Harassment regulation.  The comments on the course evaluation clearly violated both.


The matter has been referred to Student Affairs for review and investigation.  I don’t know that they are able to identify the student who made the comments.  I don’t know if they should be able to.


I’m wondering if anyone out there has dealt with something similar.  If so, what happened and what was the result?

About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.