The alleged hate crime against two University students of Asian descent three weeks ago has sparked passionate outcry from the Asian community. Although it is still unclear whether the suspects are guilty of urinating on an Asian couple and subjecting them to racial harassment, the incident has put the spotlight on the taboo topic of ethnic intimidation and the extent to which such occurrences go unreported. The University proudly claims to be a pillar of racial diversity, but it is disturbingly clear that racial and ethnic tensions still run high on campus. The University needs to reevaluate its policies and strategies to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for all its students.
Marginalized minority groups too often feel that they stand alone in combating discrimination directed toward their own members. But fighting racism is not just the responsibility of those directly targeted – prejudice and intolerance are campus-wide issues, and therefore it will take University action and collaboration among student organizations to fight them.
The University needs to develop a more comprehensive strategy to combat racial stereotyping and discrimination that addresses the root of the problem. MSA considered charging the Department of Public Safety with recording “bias incidents,” which can take on forms such as hate speech. DPS can be effective in handling hate crimes, but it is hardly an effective means for tackling the issues of racism and intolerance in which such incidents are rooted. Historically, the University has struggled with using enforcement to handle ethnic intimidation; once even going so far as to craft a speech code intended to protect students by prohibiting hate speech on campus. The code infringed on students’ freedom of speech, however, and in Doe v. University of Michigan, the a U.S. district court found it unconstitutional. DPS was not designed to monitor the opinions – no matter how offensive – of college students. Instead, the University should use education and encourage inter-student dialogue to eliminate racism and intolerance from campus.
It is also the responsibility of students to collectively promote an anti-discriminatory environment. The response to the alleged incidents should not emanate solely from the Asian community, but from all students. While it is encouraging that groups like the NAACP have been discussing the incident internally, it is time for them to follow up with a public statement to show their solidarity with the Asian community. A more formal collaboration between the Asian community and other minority groups is necessary to demonstrate that stereotyping and intolerance directed at any group will not be tolerated. It is imperative that these alliances integrate people from all cultural, religious and sexual orientations, not just ethnic minorities. A multidimensional alliance would demonstrate that intolerance is not unique to any particular minority group; support that reaches across community lines is needed to change attitudes on campus and ensure unyielding opposition toward discrimination.
The widely publicized response of the Asian community has been instrumental in encouraging victims of discrimination to speak out, but has also shed light on the improvements that must be made to combat prejudice. While the Supreme Court upheld the University’s use of affirmative action in its admission process, administrators must ensure that diversity goes deeper than enrollment statistics. DPS cannot eradicate bigotry through “bias incident” reports. More practical and proactive measures need to be taken. Students need to demonstrate a united response to a problem that is not unique to any particular group, but is fundamentally a University issue.