Hate crimes have been defined as criminal incidents that are specifically motivated by bias. They range from threats to physical assault to vandalism and other property crimes. Experts say hate crimes differ from other crimes in that they are almost always perpetrated by young, white men as random, spontaneous acts against strangers; they are far more likely to result in excessive violence; and they generally involve more than one offender. Many perpetrators are “thrill seekers” who are looking for fun and peer validation. Others are more reactive, offending based on some perceived injustice connected to the targeted individual or group. Contrary to what many believe, and what is presented in popular films such as Higher Learning, most hate crimes are not committed by members of organized hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan or Aryan Nation.
Examples of college-based hate crimes in recent years include the drawing of racial epithets on students’ dorm-room doors and in restrooms, burning of swastikas, parties where fraternities and other groups dress up and stage mock lynchings and “border control” actions, threatening emails to minority faculty members and letters to interracial couples, vandalism of worship centers, physical assaults, and more. College students are most likely to be victimized by other college students.
One difficulty in measuring hate crimes is that definitions and laws vary tremendously. In addition, the federal government began tracking hate crimes, through the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, only in 1990. In some states, gender and sexual orientation are included in the definition of such crimes, while in others they are not. Campuses may also be reluctant to label an offense as a hate crime, because doing so may reflect negatively on the school. Police are not always well trained in investigating hate crimes, especially those working on campuses. Further, if police are investigating a hate crime on campus, they may not report it to campus authorities. As a consequence, the incident may not be reported as a campus-based hate crime.
Additionally, many victims do not report hate crimes. A study by the National Institute Against Prejudice and Violence (NIAPV) found nonreporting rates between 80% and 94%. Students say they do not report incidents because they do not perceive them as being serious, they do not believe school officials would or could do anything, and they are worried about retaliation. Studies of gay and lesbian victims have found they are particularly unlikely to report hate incidents because of fear of additional attacks. Given these multiple issues with current statistics, Howard Clery III, Executive Director of Security on Campus, Inc., argues that it would be safe to quadruple the number of incidents found in law enforcement or campus-based reports.
One of the first studies of hate crimes on college campuses was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in 1998. This study included 450 higher education institutions in 40 different states. Of the 450 institutions surveyed, 222 (49%) reported a hate crime on campus in 1998, with a total of 241 incidents occurring on campuses that year. The most common motivation for hate crimes cited in the FBI report was racial prejudice, followed by anti-Semitism, bias against sexual orientation, and “other” biases. The International Association of College Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) also conducted a study in 1998, surveying 411 campuses in the United States. In this study, 88 of the 411 campuses reported a hate crime incident, with these campuses averaging 3.8 hate crimes in that year.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a leader in studying hate crimes and pursuing legal action against hate groups, suggests that hate crime rates are actually far higher. Its researchers assert that more than half a million college students are the targets of bias-motivated slurs or physical assault each year, and state that an incident occurs each day on college campuses. A major factor in this widespread prevalence is the tolerance for biased speech on college campuses. SPLC maintains that students on campuses hear racist, homophobic, sexist, or other biased-speech every minute. No campus is immune to the problem, with small and large, urban and rural, public and private colleges all experiencing hate crimes.
Similarly, Baltimore’s The Prejudice Institute, which has studied campus-based “ethno-violence” for almost two decades, estimates that between 850,000 and 1 million students are targeted by hate crimes each year. Ethno-violence includes racial and ethnically motivated name calling, emails, phone calls, verbal aggression, and other forms of psychological and physical incidents. The NIAPV estimates that 20% to 25% of minority students are the targets of ethno-violence each year.
Some sources have argued that the problem of campus hate crime has been exaggerated. They cite examples where students have made false claims as a means of getting attention, such as when a group of African American students hung a black doll from a tree and then blamed the mock lynching on white students.
In the 1980s and 1990s, in response to increasing verbal and physical incidents, campuses began establishing discrimination and harassment policies. These policies came under scrutiny, however, as impinging on free expression and as overly broad. The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated some of these policies in Doe v. University ofMichigan in 1989 and other cases. The Court did decide, in Wisconsin v. Mitchell in 1993, that states have the right to enact hate crime statutes that specify enhanced penalties for such offenses. These laws might provide a model for campus codes that authorize penalty enhancements for bias-motivated incidents
Experts have identified a number of factors that contribute to hate crimes, including lack of knowledge, the influence of peer groups, group rivalry, increased presence of minorities on campuses, and inadequate legal protection. In its guide titled “10 Ways to Fight Hate on Campus,” Teaching Tolerance provides recommendations for student organizing against these factors, including meetings, vigils, marches, making ribbons, buttons, or other gear; offering support for victimized individuals and groups; and pledging unity. Students are encouraged to speak out and to condemn biased acts. Administrators are encouraged to develop clear codes of conduct for all persons on campus as well as protocols for handling hate crime incidents, to promote civil discourse, to respond swiftly when an incident occurs, and to offer courses and other programs that foster dialogue about rights, responsibilities, diversity, and other related topics.
- Downey, J., & Stage, F. (1999, Jan/Feb). Hate crimes and violence on college and university campuses. Journal of College Student Development. Retrieved from http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P3-38144703.html
- Hate crimes on campus: The problem and efforts to confront it. (2001, October). U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/bja/187249.pdf
- Teaching Tolerance. http://www.tolerance.org/
- Tompkins, R. (N.d.). Briefing paper: Hate crimes on the college campus. School Violence Resource Center. Retrieved from http://www.bitlib.net/show.php?id=8269785