Sexual orientation bias behind alleged campus hate crime
In Washington University’s first reported hate crime in more than 10 years, a student assaulted a peer on Residential Life property due to sexual orientation bias.
The assault was listed in the University’s crime statistics from 2011, released earlier this month under the Clery Act.
The student chose not to file a police report, so the situation was handled entirely through the Office of Residential Life, which declined to provide additional information on the incident due to student privacy concerns.
“If there were a hate incident that we could run with and investigate and take further, the University’s going to be very open with it,” said Don Strom, chief of police for the Washington University Police Department. “Unfortunately in this business, you run into situations where the individuals don’t want to come forward.”
The U.S. Department of Education, which monitors campus crime reporting mandated under the Clery Act, defines a hate crime as “motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias” against the victim. Strom said that while WUPD compiles the statistics, the numbers are reported by a number of University sources including deans, administrators and advisors.
“That number is on the report, but most of those [numbers] I don’t have any details or knowledge of,” Strom said.
Director of Judicial Programs Tamara King said she does not find it particularly shocking to have had a hate crime occur on campus.
“The number doesn’t totally surprise me, when you have 6,000 undergraduate students and 6,000 graduate and professional students [on campus],” King said. “I would hope our students aren’t going around and routinely engaging in hate crimes or bias toward other people…but if it’s brought to our attention we address it.”
Strom stressed that, particularly because the case did not go through the police department, it is difficult to verify whether the reported crime was actually a hate crime.
“In some cases, they may not even be able to ascertain that an incident ever occurred, it’s just that a student reported that information, or they may say, ‘I don’t want you to do anything about this, but this is what happened,’” Strom said.
Neither King nor Strom, who have both worked at the University for 13 years, could recall a previous hate crime occurring on campus.
Junior Vinita Chaudhry, activism chair for Pride Alliance, said that the assault is particularly surprising given the University’s positive Campus Climate Index.
The organization that ranks national colleges for LGBT friendliness gives the University five out of five stars for LGBT campus safety, and five out of five stars overall.
“I think it just sort of shows the myth that everything is fine [for LGBT people] now,” Chaudhry said. “On the surface level everything is fine, but these kind of acts show that our campus climate isn’t perfect.”
She said it is impossible to expect a large undergraduate population to have the same views regarding LGBT rights, but that seeing a hate crime on campus is still unsettling.
“When you hear ‘hate crime,’ you hear of the most extreme things,” Chaudhry added. “I want to think that doesn’t happen on my campus, and I’m not sure.”
Saida Bonifield, coordinator for LGBT Student Involvement and Leadership, and Assistant Director for Sexual Assault and Community Health Services Kim Webb could not be reached for comment Wednesday.