While the past semester at Georgetown University has not brought about any hate crime related incidents, the Patrick Healy Fellows sponsored a forum in the ICC auditorium on Wednesday evening to educate and address students’ concerns about how to continue this trend. Panelists from the Department of Public Safety, the University administration, the Metropolitan Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation came to speak about their efforts to curb hate crimes in Georgetown and the Washington, D.C. area.
Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson began the discussion by clarifying that although Georgetown has not had a problem with hate crimes this year, 17 “bias motivated incidents” have occurred over the past two semesters.
“Students have raised questions regarding our zeros across the board in the hate crimes category and with good reason,” he said. “The criteria for defining an incident as a hate crime is extremely stringent and as such we cannot classify a seemingly offensive incident as a hate crime automatically.”
The incidents reported have primarily involved issues of race and sexual orientation, with a few gender-related incidents as well.
According to FBI Supervisory Special Agent for Civil Rights Mike Anderson, statistics show that African Americans are the group most frequently targeted by hate crimes. Arab Americans are the second most targeted since Sept. 11. Other ethnic groups, such as Asians and Latinos, are not seriously affected nationally by hate crimes.
According to Assistant DPS Director Portia Swinson, DPS, like the MPD, undergoes four hours of required “diversity training” during an orientation at the start of each year in order to inform officers how to identify and respond to hate crimes.
Sergeant Brett Parsons from the MPD Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit said that training officers, while it may seem trivial, is an important aspect in improving hate crime reporting and subsequently addressing the issue. He cited 2001 statistics that showed that before mandatory training was implemented, MPD reported only two bias related incidents, compared to Maryland’s and Virginia’s approximately 200 each.
Although Georgetown focuses on diversity issues, especially during the annual New Student Orientation, which includes a required “Pluralism in Action” event and engages students in dialogue about their differences, Olson admitted that these steps have not eradicated all “bias-motivated” incidents from Georgetown’s campus.
Olson said that most recently, the theft of the Jewish Student Association’s menorah from Red Square last December has only reaffirmed the University’s continuing search to find ways to increase the amount of conversation between students about why bias related incidents occur.
“There is no easy answer-I wish I could just list off four easy steps and say that this will cure all incidents, but even making more mandatory events related to diversity could create a backlash against these types of events,” he said.
Parsons agreed with Olson when he said that the atmosphere created by college life helps to curb hate crimes.
“We come here together all with different backgrounds and diverse lifestyles to live and learn and that in itself is an education which can dissipate certain biases that an individual may have against a certain group,” he said.
U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ken Wainstein emphasized that if students are to try to address issues of hate and bias, they must first try to understand the group that is being victimized.
“If we are to get reports from groups about hate crimes or bias motivated incidents we need to establish a link of communication and trust with these groups,” he said.
However, Yashreeka Huq (SFS ‘07) remained doubtful that a dialogue between groups could solve hate crimes.
“How can we try to prevent these hate crimes when people at the highest levels of government are legitimizing the whole notion that certain people don’t have certain rights with respect to events, such as President Bush trying to ban same-sex marriage in the Constitution?” she asked. Olson, nevertheless, sees the larger challenge of trying to engage more people in dialogue as the University’s biggest concern.
“In the future, engaging all members of the community, not just those that have a stake in reducing hate crimes, will be our greatest challenge,” he said.