Michigan has been at the top of some dubious statistical categories during the past few years. Besides being home to the one of the highest unemployment rate and homicides rates in the country, Michigan ranked third for the number of reported hate crimes – with 556 reported in 2004. Nearly three-quarters of these incidents were related to race or ethnicity, suggesting that racism is the most pressing and immediate cause of hate-based incidents. The state’s difficult economic situation may be partly responsible for the recent surge in hate crimes – reports increased by more than 25 percent since the 2003 – but hard times are no excuse for hatred. Often these highly visible public hate crimes make it easier to ignore the much more prevalent and insidious forms of racism that dwell in the private sphere.
Although the University has worked to create an inclusive climate for all students, its community has hardly been isolated from hate crimes and bias incidents. Students were shocked to learn of scribbled swastikas in Markley’s first Little floor last year and the alleged urination incident involving Asian-American students earlier this term. Such incidents indicate that even the state’s young – those most likely to generate social progress – can still be a part of the problem.
Recognizing the deteriorating state of race relations on campus and what appears to be a rise in bias incidents and hate crimes, Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper announced last month the University would set up a website and hotline to facilitate reporting hate crimes and bias incidents. But simply combating the systematic underreporting of such incidents will not address the underlying intolerance and hate that motivates them.
The University can encourage students to embrace diversity through programs and outreach, but ultimately no number of University-sponsored workshops will rid the campus of hatred. Students control the climate on campus far more than any administrator can, and they will have to spearhead any real movement to combat complacency.
A Diag protest against racism and hate last month only managed turn out 15 people. This sort of lackadaisical attitude will do little to heal campus divisions. While some students may believe that hate crimes do not affect them and find it more comfortable to ignore the matter, the truth is that all students must speak out against hate on campus.
More than just the act, the racism behind hate crimes both on campus and in the state cannot be accepted as one of society’s inevitable problems. The work of the civil rights movement is far from finished, and the re-emergence of hate groups in Michigan like the Ku Klux Klan are glaring signs that the current situation is anything but satisfactory.
Just because you’re not out there burning a cross or vandalizing dormitory doors with racist graffiti does not mean that it is not your problem.