May 3, 2002

Bias Incidents on Campus Increasing

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As the academic tensions of the end of the semester and finals loom near, students have perpetrated an increasing number of bias-related behaviors, say Cornell officials. Eight months after the Sept. 11 attacks, as world conflicts escalate, a letter from dean of students, Kent L. Hubbell to the Sun explained that thoughtless behavior often leads to bias-related incidents.

The letter’s co-signatories, Rev. Kenneth I. Clarke, director, Cornell United Religious Work (CURW), Robert L. Harris, Jr., vice provost for diversity and faculty development, Isaac Kramnick, vice provost for undergraduate education and Susan Murphy, vice president for student and academic services, “have been troubled by a number of incidents on the campus that violate [their] basic principle to support a diverse and inclusive campus.”

“There [have] been in the last couple of weeks a number of incidents that [have] occurred on campus — acts of harassment — some of them of an anti-Semitic nature, some of them of a homophobic nature, some of them of a racist nature,” Harris said. Though some incidents may have been hate-related, others did not target a specific group; no incidents caused physical harm to any of the victims.

“Racial epithets, homophobic graffiti, harassing e-mails, religious invectives, ridicule toward people with disabilities and slurs based on national origin have no place on this campus,” the letter stated.

Independently, none of the incidents were large but together they added up to a cause of concern for Cornell officials, according to the University. The individual events were dealt with by the groups affected. “When there’s been homophobic graffiti in a residence hall, that community has dealt with it,” Murphy said. Thus, there has been little need to inform the student body at large about the events.

Although many of the crimes were brought to the attention of Cornell officials, few were classified as “hate crimes” by Cornell University Police (CUPD).

Lieutenant Mike Blenman said, “if someone experienced what they feel to be a bias-related act but we don’t know about it, we can’t speak to it.”

Blenman felt that if actions were proven to be criminal, then a Crime Alert would be issued and they would be part of the department’s daily “Morning Report.” While some students may have felt that an incident was hate-related, according to Blenman, there is not necessarily a clear-cut definition of bias.

Stressing that there have been more possibly bias-related incidents this semester than last semester, Harris felt that conflicts in the Middle East may have contributed to student aggression. However, Murphy stressed that there is no excuse for these actions, explaining that the “string of incidents reflects behavior that does not belong on campus.”

Murphy commented that, “from a psychological perspective,” Cornell officials “were expecting a response six to seven months after September 11th,” corresponding to the time after a traumatic event when a rise in aggressive behaviors may occur.

Addressing the character of the incidents, Harris expressed that, “students need to be conscious when individuals use Nazi symbols to question the position of Jewish students — it’s inflammatory.”

One of the incidents, in which several students were seen walking across the arts quad in costumes similar to those worn by the Ku Klux Klan, may have been part of a fraternity initiation. He explained that a situation in which several black females had, “balloons full of water thrown at them” by white males could be construed as a hate crime.

The letter’s authors recognize that as stress levels increase, “that pressure to complete papers, finish projects and take exams can cause individuals who are tired and under stress to become impatient and short tempered.”

They expressed their pride at the way the Cornell community had acted in the wake of last semester’s tragedies and hoped that this sprit would continue.

“Be as strong as you were last fall,” Murphy said.

Archived article by Aliza Wasserman