The University of Michigan has the second highest number of reported hate crimes in 2017 of all universities surveyed a recent FBI report found.
The data, obtained from 110 colleges and universities in the United States, both public and private, states 15 hate crimes were reported at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor right behind 25 hate crimes reported at Rutgers University-New Brunswick in New Jersey. Other area schools, such as U-M Dearborn and Michigan State University, reported only one hate crime.
The FBI report, released last month is less holistic than the U.S. Department of Education’s report, which includes hate crime data from all institutions of higher education, as required by the Clery Act.
The FBI claims hate crimes nationally have increased by 17 percent in 2017, compared to the year prior. The data indicates a trend where campus hate crimes have increased substantially since 2016. Nearly 280 hate crimes were reported in 2017 — an increase from the 257 reported in 2016 and 194 reported in 2015.
According to the University’s Deputy Chief of Police Melissa Overton, the upsurge in reported hate crimes could also indicate that more students are familiar with and willing to report hate crimes.
“As with most other jurisdictions, especially college campuses, our numbers started to rise dramatically starting in 2016 due to the larger numbers of bias incidents occurring, as well as an increased awareness and reporting of such incidents by our community,” Overton said. “I cannot speak on comparison to other schools.”
19 hate crimes were reported by UMPD in 2017, while 11 were reported in 2016 and two in 2015, according to data obtained directly from the University of Michigan Police Department. From 2015 to 2017, the Black community reported the highest number of hate crimes (14) followed by hate crimes against multiple racial groups (4), the LGBTQ community (4), the Muslim community (4), the Jewish community (3), the white community (2) and females (1).
UMPD's Records & Evidence Manager Jesse Johnson acknowledged the discrepancy between the department's numbers and the FBI's findings.
“Sometimes the FBI numbers are not inclusive of all of our reports, which can actually be finalized after the FBI deadline,” Johnson said in an email. “This is not unheard of, having the FBI numbers be a little different than the actual UMPD numbers. And of course, all statistics are only accurate as of the date of their issuing. The ‘snapshot in time’ concept.”
LSA senior Timberlee Whiteus, vice president of the University’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter, said the data reported does not surprise her.
“These numbers don't surprise me,” Whiteus wrote in an email interview. “These things happen, and administration does their best to ensure they happen covertly so that the university’s name is not tarnished.”
According to Whiteus, the University’s history of inadequate responses to hate crimes and other bias incidents may cause marginalized communities to feel hesitant about reporting hate crimes.
“People don’t feel supported,” Whiteus wrote. “Looking at the history of how the university responds to bias incidents, it can make it difficult to make a report when one sees that the university has historically not responded in a way that is progressive.”
Business senior Mohammad Shaikh, president of the Muslim Students’ Association, said the Muslim community feels comfortable reporting hate crimes to Division of Public Safety and Security. He noted it is something they have had to do relatively frequently in the past couple years upon finding condoms and urine in University reflection rooms, a space where many Muslim students pray.
Shaikh also noted DPSS has repeatedly encouraged the Muslim community to use them as a resource and have been sensitive and understanding when contacted.
Still, Shaikh said he will never forget the anti-Islam speech written on the Diag in 2016 or the University’s response to it. The incident was not recorded as a hate crime and the University did not remove the statement.
“Literally the first day, I won’t forget it, it was a Wednesday in the middle of April, kind of like the midst of finals,” Shaikh said. “Someone wrote ‘Stop Islam’ in huge black letters on the Diag. They used the bronze 'M' on the Diag to be the 'M' in Islam. I think the frustrating thing was that the University’s response in these kind of situations, where it’s ‘free speech,’ is called into question, because it’s something that’s hateful and potentially makes Muslim students feel unsafe on campus, that there’s people with these views. That was a big concern, the University isn’t washing this off, they’re not taking a strong stance. In those situations, the University was very, as expected, very cautious and not very prompt with their response. I think it took over a week for (University President) Mark Schlissel to say anything about it.”
Public Policy senior Daniel Greene, president of Central Student Government, said the invisible nature of LGBTQ+ identities presents a unique challenge to the LGBTQ+ community when reporting hate crimes.
“If it’s a severe hate crime, I think that what often happens with the LGBTQ community is that if somebody has to call security, call the police, go to the hospital in the more severe, unfortunate situations,” Greene said. “It’s not always tagged as an LGBTQ hate crime because being LGBTQ is often an invisible identity. If the question is either not asked by the people who are supporting the survivor of the hate crime, or if the survivor, he, she, or they, themselves don’t articulate it, then oftentimes it falls off radar.”
Greene said as a white male and a student leader, he would feel comfortable reporting a hate crime to DPSS or seeking other University resources, something that more private members of the LGBTQ+ community may not do.
“I’m fully aware I carry a lot of privilege as an LGBTQ member — I’m a gay male who identifies as white, and I’m also a student leader, so I’m more willing to seek those resources here on campus,” Greene said. “I do believe there is a barrier that exists for closeted or non-out members of the LGBTQ community in articulating the hate crimes. I can’t speculate to whether or not they’d report that harm was done, but I can tell you there’s an increased likelihood that they won’t link it to a sexual orientation or a gender identity, if they do choose to seek some remedy.”
LSA junior Emma Wergeles, external relations officer of the University's Hillel, expressed concern and surprise about the increasing number of hate crimes on campus. She said the data collected in aggregate is demoralizing.
“It’s really surprising,” Wergeles said. “It’s disheartening. Looking at the data from the three years, the increase in volume regardless of which community was attacked is really concerning, and really hurtful and kind of heartbreaking for the entire campus community. The fact that there’s that many hate crimes at all is really, really scary.”
Wergeles said with recent events targeting the Jewish community, such as the murder of nine Jews worshipping inside a Pittsburgh synagogue, her community within Hillel has been extremely supportive in dealing with hate crimes against the Jewish community as a whole.
“I personally haven’t experienced a hate crime, so I can’t speak to that, but I do feel a really strong community and support system within Hillel and within the Jewish community,” Wergeles said. “I think that my experiences within the Jewish community has led me to believe that we’re really supported by this University and we’re really supported by the administration and we’re really supported by the leaders of the Jewish community, whether it be at Hillel or elsewhere.”
While different marginalized communities may express varying levels of comfort with reporting hate crimes, Whiteus believes many people may still be confused about how to even report them.
“I believe people are sometimes confused as to how they can report a hate crime to DPSS,” Whiteus said. “Once someone experiences a hate crime, I don't think the first response is to report it, but to ask, 'Why me?' Issues such as these can cause one to be distraught, and yes uncomfortable when reporting the crime because it causes them to relive that moment.”
According to Whiteus, the solution lies in increased racial diversity of University police officers.
"To increase comfort, I believe DPSS has to increase representation," Whiteus said. "A student might feel more comfortable reporting a crime to someone who can understand, and possibly relate to them.”