There’s been a lot of misinformation and confusion on this campus regarding the vandalism in Haven Hall on Monday, Oct. 8. So let me help clear the air.
It was a hate crime.
Don’t believe me? Let’s go straight to the source. From the FBI: “A hate crime, also known as a bias crime, is a criminal offense committed against a person, property, or society that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin.” Seems clear enough.
Let’s rewind a bit and go over exactly what happened in Haven Hall. In the wee hours of the night, either one person or a group of people went through all of the floors of Haven Hall and intentionally tore down flyers and personal effects outside offices of GSIs, professors and department heads in Arab American Studies, Native American Studies, African American Studies and Women’s Studies. The items torn down had to do primarily with ethnic and gender studies, as well as flyers promoting LGBT groups and other progressive causes. People don’t just wander around the upper floors of Haven Hall — this was an intentional act targeted at ethnic studies departments.
Even more maddening than the disgusting act itself was the complete lack of response by our community. There was no DPS crime alert. It took three days for a campus-wide e-mail to be sent out by University Provost Phil Hanlon.
Most people heard about it via Facebook, a forwarded e-mail or word of mouth. This is completely unacceptable for a university that has the “deepest respect for diversity” according to Hanlon’s e-mail. The University community should be embarrassed by the delayed response.
More so than even the lack of response, the type of response infuriates me. The first official line from the University came in an article in The Michigan Daily about graduate students who took it upon themselves to re-flyer the area in protest. University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald is quoted as saying, “Our understanding is that (the DPS) investigation determined that the incident was not hate-related … that said, we certainly understand that many people would still be concerned about this type of incident happening on our campus.”
In other words: There was no intentional discrimination, but we’re sorry if you felt that way.
The tone changed a bit the next day in Provost Hanlon’s e-mail. He wrote that “Posters, flyers and decorations were removed from the walls and tossed to the ground, and some had push-pins placed on them,” but refused to categorize these items as related to race, gender or sexuality. Without that crucial specificity, the average student has no idea of the oppressive implications of the act.
He continued, “This act of destruction and intolerance is not Michigan.” While I appreciate labeling the hate crime as intolerant, this is clearly not far enough. The words “hate” or “bias” are not mentioned once in the e-mail. He attempts to tie the entire response back to the idea that Michigan is a diverse community. By doing so, Hanlon and the administration are shoving this hate crime under the rug by asserting that the perpetrators don’t occupy the mainstream Michigan community.
But this is simply not true — there’s more to the story. Our campus is not the integrated, open-minded, magical place the administration would like to portray it as.
During move-in this fall, someone hung a noose in a Mary Markley Residence Hall where only one black student lived. The Reflection Room — located on the first floor of Angell Hall and intended as a space for Muslim students to pray — was defaced twice in the past year. Our University grossly underfunds the same ethnic studies departments that were targeted last week. These are just three examples, but the list is much longer. To get a glimpse of the issue, read the Daily personal statement published last week, “Being Black in Ann Arbor,” which pointed to the constant pressure that black students face in our community.
Our administration must change its tune when it responds to future incidents of this nature. It must be proactive instead of reactive to such incidents. Instead of painting the perpetrators as “bad apples,” our administration must own up to the fact that such hate crimes are an extension of the forms of discrimination that people across campus deal with every day.
It can start by admitting that the vandalism in Haven Hall was a hate crime.
Yonah Lieberman can be reached at email@example.com.