On campus hate crimes reports on rise

Law amendments made in 2008 may be a contributing factor in the recent increase of reported hate crimes on campus. In 2009, there were seven bias-related instances, up from 2007, when there were none.

The amendments, put into effect by the Higher Education Opportunity Act in August of 2008, restructured how the instances are reported. University Police were forced to make more information public regarding crime.

"Thirty years ago a custodian may not have reported it [bias-related graffiti]," University Police Chief Cynthia Adam said. Now, all campus employees are trained to report bias-related graffiti and symbols.

According to New York State law, a hate crime is an intentional act of offending, in whole or in part, minority traits like race, disability, religion and sexual orientation. If there is not a specific victim, then it becomes a bias-related incident.

"Students need to realize that they are responsible for their action, said Associate Dean of Students for Judicial Affairs Lisa Evaneski in an e-mail. "Words hurt. I encourage students at orientation to ‘find another word’ and to avoid using words that are homophobic, racist, sexist, etc."

The campus as a whole has been taking more steps in educating not only students about hate crimes, but encouraging staff to report offenses.

"The more we as a campus do education and awareness, there will be likely to be a spike," Adam said.

But there are some students and faculty who do not wish to report incidents of bias-related crimes for various reasons. Often times the reporter of the hate related crime is different from the victim. If an employee that works in a resident hall observes a bias-related symbol on a whiteboard, it is their job to report it. However, the victim may not always want to pursue it.

"Some were construed by the victim as a prank," Adam said.

In some cases members of the campus community may have been affected by a bias-related incident, but do not wish to report it because they are afraid.

"The difficulty is there are concerns of backlash because they know the person," said Catherine Santos, associate provost for multicultural opportunities and programs. "They think that it affects the community negatively but for whatever reason don’t want to pursue."

Hate crimes are detrimental to a victim and their group, because it isolates them and they can feel like there is no one who will listen to what happened. There is also a fear that if someone even listens, they will not care.

"I find that most students are not willing to report hate crimes against them…" Pride Alliance President Kathryn Van Houtte said. "Some victims have grown used to shrugging off the abuse just because it’s something they’ve been dealing with for so long. Others are convinced that even if they go to the authorities, no one will care and nothing will be done about the incident."

When an incident is reported, such as graffiti, U.P. will arrive, take pictures for documentation, talk to witnesses and then file a report. If the victim of a hate crime chooses to prosecute, then Judicial Affairs will decide what type of punishment will be put into effect.

"If we have a case that has been documented and investigated by police and it is legally a hate crime — we would proceed to a hearing," Evaneski said. "If its a bias-related incident, like use of bias-related and hateful language (no crime occurred) we might handle the case in an informal hearing."

If the student is found guilty of violating the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities, then the student may face punishments ranging from a warning to expulsion.

Although the number of reported hate crimes is increasing, it does not mean the number of hate crimes are. It may mean that more people are reporting issues. There is some discrepancy as to how to prevent these issues from taking place in the first place.

"I don’t know if programs are the answer. A lot of people don’t come to programs. Programs don’t cut it," said Lifestyles Health Promotion Coordinator Shelly Sloan. "We need to think of more creative ways of getting the message out. We are experimenting but we haven’t had a perfect solution yet. But conversations are a great start."

The occurrence of hate crimes can provoke more instances of the offense by others. They are either victims themselves or those whose see these actions as acceptable.

"It breeds fear and misunderstanding between people who wouldn’t ever think of committing a hate crime or discriminating against anyone," Van Huette said.

When people feel unsafe, it can create feelings of animosity and rivalry. It also causes emotional distress among the minority.

"It has to be upsetting, because when you’re in a group of people and getting picked on it makes people feel unwelcome and unsafe," Sloan said. "We want people to feel welcome, in this community."

Part of making people feel welcome into the community is making safe zones for students where they have someone to talk to and who can do something if that is the desired course of action.

"I would also like to suggest that more faculty members turn their offices into ‘Safe Spaces’ for LGBTQA [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Asexual] students," Van Huette said. "It helps so much to have even one person, one faculty/staff member who has just the slightest pull around the campus, to talk to."

The rate of hate crimes at Oswego State has changed over the years, according to Santos.

"I have been here for over 40 years and things have improved, certainly," Santos said. "But have they been eradicated? Certainly not."

Santos attributes the increase of tolerance to more classes that talk about bias and race. The more that the campus utilizes of the classroom as a vehicle for promoting tolerance, the less hate crimes there will be.

"It’s a package deal. It has to be reported, stop it when it’s happening, not perpetuate it and stopping it in classrooms" Santos said.

Even when hate crimes stop, it will not be enough.

"If it’s still happening than we can do more," Sloan said. "When it stops, we need to keep going so it doesn’t start again."