By Jessica Yadegaran, San Diego State U.
The death of Matthew Shepard last October sank hearts and raised consciences all over the nation. A series of hate crimes across America's campuses followed, and, slowly, institutions known for higher thought and liberalism were rapidly becoming testing grounds for acts of malevolence.
In light of Shepard's death, hate crimes are being publicized more but what are colleges and universities doing to stop them?
Not much, say some students and officials.
"They haven't done anything to keep things from happening again," says senior Tad Whitaker, a journalism major at the U. of Wyoming where, before being brutally beaten and murdered, Shepard had just begun his freshman year. Whitaker covered the Shepard case for the school's student newspaper, The Branding Iron. "There isn't a whole lot that the university can do. In a statement, they said they don't expect any repercussions as far as enrollment. Their motto is, let time take care of it.'"FIGHTING BACK
In the same city, only days before, a swastika was found burned into the ceiling of a Boston U. elevator and painted on a student's door on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement.
And while anti-Semitism is on the decline in the United States, according to a recent report published by The Chronicle of Higher Education, in 1997, campus incidents increased by 15 percent. So what are college officials doing to keep these numbers from affecting their university's golden rep?
According to Myra Kodner, a spokesperson for Security on Campus, a non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of campus crime, hate crimes often go unreported. This is illegal according to the Campus Security Act of 1990, which was amended in October to give the legislation more teeth. "University officials found loopholes," Kodner says. "Things weren't being reported, so provisions were added requiring any authority of a school (nurse, coach, professor) who knows about the crime, to report it."
The amendment comes at a crucial time, when gay-bashing, racial slurs and even murders are occurring from New York U. to the U. of California, Irvine. The Diamondback, U. of Maryland's student newspaper, recently caught flak for printing an anti-gay guest column. Last December, the U. of Rhode Island campus newspaper ran what several students say was a racist cartoon. Black students who protested the cartoon received threats.
Clemson U. saw a rash of alleged hate crimes strike campus in October. Local police chalked several eggings up to racially spurred incidents. And during homecoming week the Minority Council's homecoming float was vandalized.CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR
Contrary to what you may think, hate crimes aren't limited to predominately white schools. They can happen anywhere even at schools where the minority actually makes up the majority. Richard J. Machado, a former UC Irvine student and the first person to be convicted of a hate crime over the Internet was sentenced to one year in prison, then released from federal custody on a $10,000 bond. In January '98, Machado sent e-mail death threats to Asian students, saying he would kill them if they didn't leave UCI, a school whose student population is more than 50 percent Asian.
More than a year later, UCI junior Thien Nguyen, is still disturbed by the incident. "I was a freshman and I knew some of the people who had received the e-mail," says Nguyen, who is also chair of the Asian Pacific Student Association at UCI. "I don't agree with the Court's decision that Richard Machado was a harmless, distressed young man who did it without malicious intent. It's one of those instances where you have the opportunity to really mobilize people and raise the level of awareness. I think there could have been much more mobilization and involvement on campus."
Sure, there could have been. And who knows? Maybe one day there will be. But the question is: How many more students will have to be victimized before campus officials take action?
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