The Unseen Risk: Identity-Referent Incidents as a Compliance Risk in Higher Education

Landon D. Reid

Traditional approaches to compliance in higher education fail to consider the risks caused by identity-referent incidents (IRIs). IRIs are incidents of bias related to an individual’s identity (e.g., race, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, etc.) for which the college or university is a causal nexus. Even as colleges and universities have become increasingly aware of the risks posed under their traditional compliance obligations stemming from both laws (e.g., HIPAA, FERPA) and rules (e.g., EPA, OSHA), those same institutions often fail to view IRIs as risks that could also violate federal (e.g., Title VI, VII, IX, ADA) and state (e.g., Human Rights) laws as well as the standards of both accrediting bodies and the institutions themselves. Moreover, IRIs pose a reputational risk to colleges and universities. By considering the framework of inattentional blindness, it is possible to teach institutions to see IRIs as risks.

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