DEALING WITH PREJUDICE: Enforcement, education keys to fighting bigotry
March 12, 2010
By Clifton B. Parker
As UC Davis takes steps to curb hate crimes, experts say enforcement and education are the best ways to stand tall against intolerance.
“We must be constant and vigilant in our efforts to confront and reject all manifestations of the historical and deep-rooted prejudices and biases that remain in our society,” said Chancellor Linda Katehi in a March 1 letter to the campus community.
Acts condemned systemwide
Prejudice reared its ugly head last month when someone carved a swastika into the dorm door of a Jewish student. Then came the discovery Feb. 26 of derogatory and profane words spray-painted across the entrance to the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center.
In early March, more graffiti was discovered — four swastikas spray-painted on the Centennial Walk through the Quad, on the Social Sciences and Humanities Building, on the campus’s brick entry sign along A Street, and on the TB106 facility. All were quickly removed.
Beyond UC Davis, the UC system is dealing with hate crimes on the Irvine, San Diego and Santa Cruz campuses. Chancellor Katehi joined all of the UC chancellors, UC President Mark Yudof and the leaders of the Academic Senate in a joint letter condemning “all acts of racism, intolerance and incivility.”
Backed by strong institutional stands against crimes of hate, UC Davis law enforcement has launched vigorous investigations into the recent incidents.
“Our intent is to make every effort to catch the people who did these crimes,” said Lt. Matt Carmichael of the UC Davis Police Department, adding that UC Davis has increased patrols. Also, the FBI has joined the campus in investigating the hate crimes.
Human nature, Carmichael noted, shows that people talk or brag about such misdeeds. “Someone who has done this has probably talked about it to someone else.”
On the education side, communicating and learning serve as the antidotes to fear and ignorance, campus leaders say. After the LGBT graffiti, the university held a town hall meeting where more than 400 people turned out. Afterwards, students set up a blog to address homophobia — queers4publiceducation.wordpress.com.
Sheri Atkinson, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center, said that even places like UC Davis have to be watchful against prejudice.
“I’m here to support students,” she said at the March 4 student rally against cuts in public education. “The campus feedback and support from that town hall meeting was very impressive.”
At noon Wednesday (March 10), the Black Student Union was set to hold a rally on campus. Earlier, they had sent the administration a list of recommendations related to campus climate. In response, Chancellor Katehi said she was “very pleased” with the black students’ approach.
“When students approach us with respect, it enables us to have a very meaningful discussion about very difficult issues,” she replied.
Those recommendations were to be discussed March 11 when UC Davis was scheduled to hold an emergency meeting of the Campus Council on Community and Diversity. The topic: how to ensure that the campus environment is safe for everyone.
The hate crimes are juxtaposed with UC Davis’ celebration last week of its 20-year-old Principles of Community, which affirm the right of freedom of expression within our community and our commitment to the highest standards of civility and decency toward all (see principles.ucdavis.edu).
UC Davis has services to help people deal with a wide range of personal and community issues — see sidebar for links.
Social origins of hate
UC Davis psychology professor Gregory Herek, known for his groundbreaking research on prejudice against lesbians and gay men, said a “variety of motivations” are at work in these types of crimes.
Research indicates many anti-gay hate crimes are motivated by a deep-seated prejudice against sexual minorities, he said. Young males seeking acceptance from their peers or just into thrill-seeking are often responsible, and many of these crimes are done impulsively.
“The victim of the crime is often incidental,” said Herek, adding that it is “absolutely possible” that the perpetrators are not from outside the UC Davis community.
“If I were a police officer, I’d want to keep an open mind as to where they come from,” he said.
Herek said harassment against minority groups heightens during economic slowdowns. This gives angry types a sense of permission to go after unpopular groups.
Ryken Grattet, a sociologist who studies hate crimes and the criminal justice system, said the issue is complex.
“The best research we have shows that hate crimes emerge in places where residents feel under siege from outsiders and where the crimes reflect a “defense of turf,” he said
Though researchers do not know exactly why hate crime erupts where and when it does, they find that perpetrators tend to be young males, economically disadvantaged, prone to substance abuse and criminal behavior of all types.
“That is, they don’t specialize in doing hate crime, but instead do other illegal stuff on top of the hate-motivated stuff,” Grattet said.
Freedom of expression?
A university like UC Davis is a place where open and free expression is encouraged. And so, some civil libertarians might worry that a campaign against hate crimes be perceived as censoring or ostracizing those with unpopular opinions.
Alan Brownstein, a law professor and constitutional expert, said “hate speech” and a “hate crime” are two different things.
“Speech protected by the First Amendment never rises to the level of a hate crime,” he said. “To satisfy the elements of a hate crime, the offender must engage in some kind of conduct, such as assault or vandalism, that is independently subject to criminal prosecution and punishment.”
Under the First Amendment, UC Davis may not punish a speaker who expresses hate speech, but it can exercise its moral authority and publicly challenge such statements as reprehensible, he said.
“Public universities are permitted to speak loudly and clearly in condemning the expression of prejudice and bigotry on campus,” he said.
Apart from hate speech, Brownstein explained that UC Davis can prosecute hate crimes without restricting freedom of speech by distinguishing between criminal conduct motivated by bias and hateful speech. The Supreme Court case on this issue is Wisconsin v. Mitchell (1993).
Otherwise, the Constitution does not protect “threats” as free speech, he said. But racist threats cannot be punished more severely than any other kind of threat.
Culture, history of hate
Why is this happening now at UC Davis? Is there an increase in hate crimes against Jewish or gay people — or anyone — during economically difficult times?
Ari Y. Kelman, a professor in American studies, said it is “hard to prove that kind of causality” when one looks at history:
“If anything, anti-Semitism in America has surfaced in its most pronounced forms not during times of economic stress but in times of relative security.”
He pointed out that wealthy automaker Henry Ford published a series of rabidly anti-Semitic booklets and pamphlets, known as the International Jew, in the prosperous years of the 1920s, and that Sen. Joe McCarthy launched his witch-hunt for communists during the normalcy of the 1950s.
Kelman, who studies contemporary Jewish culture, said American history is filled with examples of anti-Semitic vandalism. The impact on the Jewish person is painful.
“American Jews, although living in a relatively tolerant society, are all very aware of the presence of anti-Semitism, in the abstract at least,” he said.
His colleague, Diane Wolf, director of the Jewish Studies Program and a specialist on gender and Jewish issues, urges unity and restraint:
“I hope that Davis’ Jewish population can see this within the broader context of anti-gay and lesbian actions as well as the racism manifest at UC San Diego. All of these acts taken together constitute a position against minorities, not solely against Jews.”
She hopes that Jewish students and others can band together and challenge anti-Semitism, racism and homophobia throughout all the UC campuses.
“It is all connected.”
Wolf, who wrote the 2007 book, Beyond Anne Frank: Jewish Families in Postwar Holland, believes that both vigilance and prudence are important.
“Although disturbing, this is not another Holocaust. In fact, anti-Semitic attitudes and crimes are at an all-time low in this country. I do not believe that there is any reason for UC Davis Jewish students to be fearful,” she said.
Life after Obama’s election
With Obama’s election, one might think as a nation we’re beyond such behavior? Not so fast, said one faculty member.
“You can’t eliminate bigotry for all time with any one act or event,” Moradewun Adejunmobi, an African America and African Studies scholar, maintained. “There are obviously times when communities are less tolerant of bigotry, and times when they are more tolerant.”
Education is one of the best ways society can overcome widespread intolerance, said Patricia Turner, vice provost for Undergraduate Studies and scholar in African and African American Studies,and American Studies.
“I used to remind the students that in the days of the civil rights movement, the mantra that academic success is the best way to undermine those who committed anti-black efforts led to students of that era approaching their studies with even more determination than before,” she noted.
From gender to Jewish and Asian American studies, Turner said, the UC Davis curriculum offers many courses on the history and cultures of different peoples and groups.
Professor Halifu Osumare, also of African American and African Studies, believes that in times of uncertainty, legitimate fear sometimes finds consolation in bigotry. It is far easier to attack a group than to find real solutions to problems.
“Times of economic hardship have usually produced social intolerance” toward those perceived to be taking resources away from others, she said.
This happened with African Americans in the depression during the 1870s after Reconstruction. “And it’s happening today in the nativist cry for stricter immigration rules for Mexicans,” Osumare said.
‘Campus climate issues’
As for the next step, Herek, the psychologist, believes the university can turn the page on this chapter of hate.
Many students tell him about countless acts of beneath-the-surface harassment — the LGBT graffiti was simply the most visible and brought the anti-gay sentiment shockingly into the public spotlight.
“The campus is dealing with the climate and atmosphere issues, and showing its deep disapproval,” Herek said. “We all need to keep working to make the campus a welcoming place for sexual and gender minorities.”
WHERE TO GO FOR HELP
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center: lgbtcenter.ucdavis.edu
Counseling and Psychological Services: caps.ucdavis.edu
Campus Violence Prevention Program: cvpp.ucdavis.edu
Office of Campus Community Relations: occr.ucdavis.edu
Hillel House: www.hillelhouse.org
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