Zachary Tennen, a sophomore at Michigan State University, was brutally attacked at an off-campus party on Saturday. According to Tennen, two men approached him and asked if he was Jewish. He answered that he was, and then was brutally beaten. It’s discouraging that in 2012, Tennen may have been targeted because of his religious beliefs or cultural background. Our communities — especially universities — need to take steps to ensure the accuracy of Tennen’s claims and prevent similar hate crimes.

Tennen claims that the two male students raised an arm in a “Heil Hitler” salute before attacking him. He was knocked unconscious, left with a broken jaw and a stapled-shut mouth. While there were several witnesses, no one called for help at the time. After Tennen regained consciousness, he called himself a taxi to take him to the hospital. Currently police are not investigating the act as a hate crime.

Though the University touts its diversity, it would be naive to think societal tensions don’t still exist. An attack such as the one at MSU could happen in Ann Arbor. This kind of sweeping declaration is easy to say, but much harder to enact. Such an implementation involves a strong administrative influence and openness from the student body. Honest, open dialogue is the only way to address xenophobia.

Prejudice does not only exist in action, but also in a lack of action. It is a lazy tendency to push responsibilities onto others, like the bystanders at MSU. In a group situation, many people assume that someone else will help or be the person to call 911. But, unfortunately in Tennen’s case, someone else didn’t take responsibility. Interfering when someone is in need is a basic objective of communities.

When the police remove the “hate crime” label, they challenge the definition of hate crimes in this country. Recent events such as the deathly attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin or the burning of a mosque in Tennessee are only a sobering reminder of when prejudice turns to extremism. The actions against Tennen are obviously aggressive and targeted at a subset of the American population that shares a common religion or culture. Any such action should be labeled as a hate crime.

Though it is difficult to admit, hate crimes and racism still exist in our nation. It’s despicable that a crime against a Jewish student could occur at a major university, and colleges across the nation should step up their tolerance programs and awareness. If students are encouraged to accept those different from themselves as young adults, they will carry these values with them for the rest of their lives.

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