August 21, 2012

Editorial: Taking Responsibility for Stopping Hate Crimes

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The incidents of hate that have occurred in our community, both during finals period and during Orientation Week, are very troubling. First, an individual not affiliated with Cornell threw bottles at black students during finals week, yelling racial slurs. Second, this weekend, an individual allegedly verbally and physically assaulted a group of students, yelling slurs against members of the gay and minority community. It is little consolation to know that Cornell students were not the ones who were accused of these heartless actions. This can, and must, stop.

According to police, the harassment allegedly continued as the victims were pursued down the street. In May, the student throwing bottles on the roof was told to stop by the victims, but initially continued the harassment without interference, according to witnesses. Those who witness this sort of behavior and allow it to proceed without intervening are complicit in the act.

The actions that the University has taken in response to the incident at Sigma Pi are promising. One complaint voiced in the wake of the events at Sigma Pi was that every time events like this happen, University officials make statements condemning the attack and then do little else to resolve the issue in the long term. This time, the University seems to be taking action.

One concrete action that the University took in response to this incident was a decision to keep Sigma Pi on provisional status for the upcoming year. The administration said that the fraternity is at least partly responsible for the actions of its guests instead of simply dismissing the incident as unrelated to Cornell students. This sends the message that we as Cornellians have a responsibility to stop these actions, even when they are committed by people who are not members of the community.

Additionally, the creation of a new staff position that will oversee diversity initiatives throughout the Greek system shows that the University is willing to make a meaningful investment in creating a climate where these types of behaviors do not occur at all. The University has also pledged that the Center for Intercultural Dialogue will lead ongoing, campus-wide conversations on multicultural awareness. It is our hope that this new position and this dialogue will be able to maintain the focus on this issue.

We hope that this same proactive approach to the problem will also be taken in response to the incident this weekend in Collegetown. It is unfortunate that we need incidents like this to remind us that we need to work actively to address the problem. We should not have to rely on these painful reminders to do something.