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Hate Crimes on Campus

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The Federal government, more than 40 states, and the District of Columbia have hate crime statutes of some kind. Generally, a hate crime is a crime of violence, property damage, or threat that is motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias based on race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, gender, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation. Most places that have hate crime laws cover bias based on race, religion, ethnicity, and national origin. A smaller number of states cover bias based on gender, disability, and sexual orientation. In addition to criminal statutes, many states have civil statutes that authorize the state attorney general to seek restraining orders against persons who engage in bias-motivated violence, threats, or property damage. It is important to check the exact wording of the hate crime laws in your state.

Hate or bias incidents involve behaviors that are motivated by bias based on race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. These incidents do not involve criminal conduct such as assault, threats, or property damage. Degrading comments can be considered bias incidents. They are usually not considered hate crimes because the speaker of the comments has not engaged in criminal activity.

Students report hearing degrading language about women, gays, and lesbians on a daily basis and racist, anti-Semitic, and other slurs on a regular but less frequent basis. The widespread use of degrading language and slurs has two serious consequences.

The use of such language creates an atmosphere that permits conduct to escalate from mere words to stronger words to threats and, ultimately, to violence. In a significant portion of campus hate crime cases, the illegal conduct appears to have escalated from lower levels of harassment. If not challenged or interrupted, the widespread use of this language sends the message—often unintended— that bias and prejudice are accepted within a campus community. Some students interpret this message to mean that more aggressive conduct may also be acceptable.

Even in the absence of escalation, bias incidents can have a traumatic impact on students, staff, and faculty. Members of a campus community often experience fear when they are on the receiving end of degrading language or slurs or see graffiti that targets groups in which they are members. This fear can interfere with the ability of students to focus on their academic work. Some students who are the target of bias-motivated harassment do not react with fear but with anger. This can lead to other forms of campus violence.

Colleges and universities across the country deal with hate crimes on a regular basis. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, 13.5% of hate crimes reported in 2005 occurred at schools or colleges. The same report indicates that 54% of hate crimes on college campuses were motivated by race, 22% by religion, 13% by sexual orientation, and 12% by ethnicity. Hate crimes on campus are more widespread than any statistics are likely to reveal. Some reasons for the low reported numbers are:

  • Victims are often reluctant to come forward because they feel isolated
  • Victims are often reluctant to come forward because they fear repercussions from the perpetrators
  • It is sometimes difficult to prove that the crime was actually a hate crime
  • There is sometimes reluctance of institutions to label a campus crime as a hate crime due to the bad publicity it may cause

There are multiple factors that contribute to the occurrences of hate crimes. These factors include, but are not limited to:

  • lack of knowledge
  • peer group influence
  • peer group acceptance
  • rivalry between groups or individuals
  • increase in minority groups
  • decrease in minority opportunities.

No college campus is immune to hate crimes. They occur at virtually every type of college and university and in every part of the nation. Perpetrators of these incidents include current students, former students, and non-students. There are some problems that face higher education concerning hate crimes:

  • Campus police must have adequate training in order to recognize and handle a hate crime. Campus police who have not received adequate training may not recognize the presence of a hate crime and investigate the crime improperly as a result.
  • In order for proper investigations to occur and positive programs to be implemented, victims, students, faculty, and administration must report the possibility of a crime being a hate crime. This could create short-term negative public reaction but would help instigate a long-term safer environment for the campus as a whole.
  • Students, staff, and faculty do not report hate crime incidents up the administrative ladder. A protocol must be established in order for remedies to be made. This creates an environment that is helpful to all involved from the victim, campus law enforcement, and administration.
  • Administrators do not disseminate information concerning hate crimes to the campus community. It is important that vital and correct information be given to the campus community. This prevents misinformation from being spread as well as establishes the environment that such actions will not be tolerated on or off the campus grounds.

Many colleges and universities have responded to hate crimes on their campuses with a broad-based public condemnation of bias, prejudice, and violence. Many have campus organizations that work to confront bias, hate, and violence. Several schools have implemented peer diversity education groups that promote understanding

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) formed its World of Difference Institute in 1992 to “define and advance a discipline of diversity education.” The institute’s Campus of Difference Program provides training to increase awareness of bias incidents and hate crimes and encourage university students to make proactive changes on campus. 23% of college campuses with 2,500 enrolled students had a special hate crime program or unit operated by campus law enforcement agencies.

The Clery Act (1992) requires colleges and universities in the U.S. to report campus crimes and security policies to both the campus community and the U.S. Department of Education. In addition to policy and reporting requirements, it specifies that schools must report separately those crimes that appear to have been motivated by prejudice.

Hate crimes can have a devastating impact on the well-being of campus communities and the safety of college students. The admission of the problem is the first step in attempting to find a solution. An ongoing and open discussion on hate crimes is essential on a college campus.

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