Campus Hate Crime Response Requires Diligence

Campus Hate Crime Response Requires Diligence

Recent surges in hate incidents, on college campuses and beyond, have renewed conversations nationally about what constitutes a hate crime and what can be done to best respond to and prevent such occurrences. 

In the past month alone, thirty-six bomb threats have been made towards Historically Black Colleges and Universities, filling the campus communities with fear. While the FBI has made progress in identifying the suspects, the impact will be long-lasting. “Ryan Young, executive assistant director of the Intelligence Branch at the FBI, said that the bomb threats made to HBCUs and historically Black churches are the agency’s top priority,” wrote Ariana Figueroa in the Virginia Mercury. Last month the Department of Education announced that HBCUs may now apply for grants under Project School Emergency Response to Violence (Project SERV) as well as other federal resources to help improve mental health programs and campus safety. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a press release, “Today’s announcement will improve access to Project SERV grants for HBCUs as these institutions work to address students’ mental health needs, shore up campus security, and restore learning environments so that they can get back to doing what they do best—educating the next generation of great leaders.” Measures like this are certainly a step in the right direction, acknowledging the crucial support and resources needed to adequately address harm of this nature.

But despite this evident increase in and awareness of incidents of hate and bias, it remains a controversial and often divisive issue on college campuses. Colleges revere academic freedom and feel it grounds the purpose of higher education: to challenge thinking and, as a result, encourage debate of ideas and foster personal growth. However, some use this ideal to justify teachings in classrooms or personal statements that are racist, homophobic, or dangerous.

This also raises questions about whether hate crimes as defined today adequately address the ways in which bias and hate show up in daily life and the impact those actions may have.

For example, the Clery Act derives its definitions from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Hate Crime Data Collection Guidelines to determine what gets classified as a hate crime. This means that the nature of the incident must align with one of the identified criminal categories and there must be evidence that the crime was committed by a perpetrator due to their bias towards the victim grounded in one of eight protected categories: race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, national origin, or religion.

This is an extremely narrow definition and even more narrow threshold to meet, especially for a campus. Classifying incidents as hate crimes is important for gaining an accurate picture of what violence looks like as well as acknowledging the serious nature of actions that take place that are criminal acts; however, much of what occurs on a campus does not neatly fit into a criminal category with a clear, intended victim. Rather, public restroom stalls are vandalized with slurs, anonymous Twitter accounts make hateful statements, or unaffiliated strangers make bomb threats, of which the seriousness and validity can be difficult for a campus to evaluate. 

Clery Center resources like Explaining Hate Crimes Under the Clery Act and collaborative projects like Combating Hate Crimes on College and University Campuses offer support to institutions of higher education looking to further refine their hate crime and/or bias-incident response policies, remembering that counting an incident as a Clery crime statistic is only one part of the puzzle. Schools should also look at their institution’s bias-related policies to identify how they will respond to incidents that may not be categorized as a hate crime by definition. Identifying what behaviors are incongruent with an institution’s mission and values, educating the entire campus community about why that is, and allocating resources to support those harmed will create meaningful change.
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