LSA junior Stephanie Chang said she can’t believe that
only one hate crime was recorded by the Department of Public Safety
in 2002.

“If DPS had better reporting of bias incidents and hate
crimes it could just be the first step towards finding the solution
to the problem,” Chang said.

Chang is a member of Student Voices in Action — a group
formed to protest recent University cuts and changes to student
services. The group also wants DPS to start accurately recording
hate crimes and bias incidents.

SVA states that Michigan is the state with the fifth-highest
number of hate crimes reported yearly. SVA also said the Office of
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Affairs recorded 12 hate
crimes and bias incidents last year and 26 in the previous
year.

DPS officials, on the other hand, claim that while they can make
improvements, they already encourage people on campus to report
suspicious incidents.

DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown said few hate crimes are reported.
“We’re always encouraging students to report suspicious
incidents. We want people reporting all kinds of crime and
incidents that people perceive as crime,” Brown said.

A hate crime is “a crime which in whole or part is
motivated by the offender’s bias toward the victim’s
status,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice. A bias
incident, however, “is an action in which a person is made
aware that her/his status is offensive to another, but does not
rise to the level of a crime.”

DPS Director William Bess said one of the most common examples
of a bias incident at the University is a student writing or
drawing something offensive — regarding race, gender or
sexual preference — on another student’s dry-erase
board on their residence hall door.

Members of SVA met with DPS officials Wednesday to discuss
policies regarding bias incidents and hate crimes — such as
including a separate category for hate crimes in the Campus Safety
Handbook.

“We’ve already had a discussion about making changes
and adding information to the handbook. … What we want to do
in our changes to the annual handbook is to add specific
definitions and specific data,” Bess said, adding that the
information will be included in the 2004-05 handbook.

Bess said he hopes these changes will raise community awareness
about bias incidents and hate crimes. He said students will report
more incidents if they know the police will act on them.
“Usually when we start to bring something to attention
it’ll lead to a spike in the number of reports,” Bess
added.

If a person is charged with committing a bias incident, they are
referred to the Office of Student Conflict Resolution. Possible
sanctions from OSCR include doing community service, being
suspended or even facing expulsion from the University.

In addition to making changes to the handbook, DPS plans to
provide more extensive training for its officers, Bess said.

The training will include making officers fully aware of the
definitions for hate crimes and bias incidents and how to respond.
DPS also plans to have one or two officers in the department
specialize in hate crimes and bias- incident-related issues.

“We’ll continue to take the reports that we’ve
been taking, but we’re making it a specialty to give it more
attention than we have in the past,” Bess said.

The Michigan Student Assembly has also shown an interest in
promoting campus awareness of hate crimes and bias incidents. MSA
passed a resolution to encourage DPS and the Division of Student
Affairs to establish a mechanism to report and record hate crimes
and bias incidents, MSA President Jason Mironov said.

“I think that, as a responsible student government, it is
a necessity for us to create a safe space for all students at the
University. This resolution helps encourage that kind of
environment,” Mironov said.

But some students do not think this resolution will make a
difference on campus. “I know a lot of people who don’t
take DPS seriously, so they might not listen to DPS even if they do
enforce it,” LSA freshman Jeanna Biliti said.

Yet DPS will continue to meet with multicultural and
alternative-life organizations in an effort to protect all
University students.

“One of the wonderful things about this institution is its
diversity. … We enjoy its benefits, but it carries with it
some responsibility,” Bess said.

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