Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission Awareness - Education - Inspiration

Hate Crimes on College Campuses


By Luoman Huang, Social Media Intern

Campus diversity has grown significantly over the past decade. Students from all different backgrounds and upbringings have gathered to enhance their academic learning. As educational institutions become more diversified, these schools must increasingly address issues of hate crime and hate speech. Although hate crimes are occurring less frequently at universities, hate speech and bias incidents are becoming much more common place.

Racial prejudice is the most common motivation behind hate crime. It is often cause by racial tension that stems from an ethnically diverse student body. Experts have listed three contributing factors that may trigger such tension:

  1. Students are often not accustomed to the diverse environment that exists within university campuses.
  2. Intoxication has caused students to exchange racial slurs, which often lead to injuries and hospitalization.
  3. Students are not under direct parental supervision and may be more likely to misbehave.

It is important to recognize these triggers so that adequate measures can be taken when dealing with diversity tensions.

Campus safety has become a major concern in the light of several incidents of hate crime. It is noteworthy that hate crime is not exclusive to U.S. universities, but that it also occurs across the world.  For example, on January 19th, King’s College of London (KCL) experienced a mob protest against the university’s Israel Society. The organization was hosting a speaker symposium when members of KCL’s Action Palestine began throwing chairs, smashing windows, and setting off fire alarms. As a result, the meeting had to be stopped and the building evacuated. Likewise in the U.S., three men at Lewis and Clark College attacked Rwandan student, Tanguy Muvuna. One attacker exclaimed that this was “how we treat the black man”.

Despite recent incidents of hate crime, hate speech is actually more common among university students. The anonymity of social media has fueled the misuse of these platforms. There are many incidents where students have written racial slurs and made threating messages on social media. Yik Yak, a social media phone application, is a popular platform that some have used to promote hate speech. Western Washington University had to suspend all classes when disturbing and threatening hate speech that targeted students of color was written on Yik Yak. Similarly, Saint Louis University banned Yik Yak from their wireless network in an effort to control hate speech. That university’s action has generated controversies regarding the limitations of first amendment protection.

In an effort to combat hate speech, some universities have implemented speech code into their campus policies. However, this action against hateful speech has conflicted with principles of free speech and academic expression. Universities struggle to create an environment that tolerates all diverse backgrounds and is also unafraid to welcome all forms of expression. The issue regarding hate speech and first amendment protection has fueled numerous debates. Some have argued that hate speech constitutes first amendment protection, as it is not the government’s job to separate good speech from bad. All forms of expression should have a place in the marketplace of ideas. However, others argued that hate speech creates a hostile and unsafe environment for students and is thereby invalid to receive first amendment protection.

Diversity-related tensions are always at the root of every act of hate crime and hate speech. Diversity brings all types of complex conflicts that bare no easy solutions. While most universities promote diversification of students and staff, they have also struggled to balance diversity and antagonism. Many institutions of higher learning don’t understand what acceptable steps to take when addressing diversity conflicts. And while hate crime prevention will continue to be a complex issue in the university setting, by placing priority on prevention of incidents, universities and their partners can promote the ideals that their institutions uphold as they work to curtail the growing incidence of these transgressions.


Image by Dick Thomas Johnson on Flicker

Tags: hate crime hate speech university college campus diversity yik yak speech code rwandan israel palestine social media first amendment saint louis university lewis and clark college racial prejudice


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