Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Action Against Hate works to minimize, inform about hate crimes

From the outset of their college experience at Whitman, students are introduced to and familiarized with the college’s policies regarding sexual harassment and misconduct and academic honesty and plagiarism. Detailed descriptions of the policies are presented in the Student Handbook and in numerous information sessions.

Nothing of this sort, however, exists for hate crimes.

The Action Against Hate (AAH), a committee of students, faculty and staff that was formed in 2004, is trying to change this.
“The AAH was formed because we realized that there was no official way of handling hate or bias here at Whitman,” said current AAH advisor and Residential Director Elana Stone.

In 2004 the AAH created a Proposed Bias-Motivated Incident and Hate Crime Policy for Whitman College to be added to the Student Handbook, Staff Handbook and Faculty Handbook.

In order for their proposed policy to become part of the aforementioned handbooks, it must be first submitted to the Policy Committee. If the Policy Committee passes it, it moves on to the faculty who make the final decision as to whether or not the proposal will become part of the handbooks.

The AAH has submitted their proposal to the Policy Committee every year since 2004, only to have it continuously shut down by the Committee.

“Every year it’s rejected with a different set of concerns that we’ve then worked with and resubmitted only to have it rejected,” said Stone.

Along with the policy proposal, Stone also submitted a Summary of Action Against Hate Reports to last year’s Committee. The summary was a compilation of the findings from the hate crime reporting forms which are submitted anonymously by students online through the AAH’s Web site.

Since reporting of hate crimes began in September 2004, 42 incidents have been reported. Of these, 57 percent indicated a bias toward sexual orientation or gender, 50 percent indicated a bias toward social class, 12 percent indicated a bias toward social class and seven percent indicated a bias toward religious affiliation.

The AAH believes that these findings are under-representative of the actual number of hate crimes that occur at Whitman, a factor behind their push for the implementation of their proposal.

“It is our intention that a policy against hate and bias incidents at Whitman will not only send the message that Whitman College is taking a stand against hate but will also encourage more accurate reporting of hate and bias in our community,” said the AAH in the proposal.

Professor Doug Hundley chaired last year’s Policy Committee and made the final decision to reject the proposal last semester.

“I think if the proposal were only about hate crimes, there could have been a different outcome,” Hundley said. “There are significant issues wrapped up in the ‘bias-motivated incidents’ regarding freedom of speech, freedom of teach, and in terms of opening the College up to legal challenges, these were significant enough that I did not think it wise to pass the proposal as written.”

Hate crimes are illegal and federally legislated. They are defined in the State of Washington as “malicious harassment.” A person is guilty of “malicious harassment” if he or she causes physical injury to the victim, causes physical damage or destruction of the property of the victim or threatens a victim and places that person in reasonable fear of harm to person or property because of his or her perception of the victim’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

The problem arises in the inclusion of ‘bias-motivated incidents’ to the AAH’s proposal because, unlike hate crimes, they are not clearly defined.

“Similar to a hate crime, a bias-motivated incident is an intentional, malicious act motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias towards the status of perceived status of an individual or a group,” said the AAH in the proposal.

Although bias-motivated incidents cause as much physical and emotional harm as a hate crime, because they do not rise to the level of a crime, they are more difficult to prosecute. Stone gave the example of writing a racial slur on a whiteboard or shouting a homophobic slur from a car window as examples of bias-motivated incidents.

“One of the problems and concerns [with the proposal] that has been brought up is how do you define someone’s intent or motivation,” said Stone. “Again, I would say that we don’t go any further than the other college policies.”

Hundley’s concern for First Amendment liberties has been a common concern brought up by previous Policy Committee Chairs and was also a factor in previous Committees’ decisions to reject the AAH’s proposal.

“We had a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) look over the policy, and we worked with their concerns, so along those lines we feel confident that we aren’t encroaching on any freedom of speech, thought, expression or action,” said Stone. “We firmly believe that the policy is within the overall construct of policy here at Whitman and it doesn’t necessarily do anything above or beyond other types of policies.

“Our response to [‘opening the College up to legal challenges’] is that by knowing that hate and bias incidents and crimes are happening on campus and not doing anything to prevent them we are opening ourselves as well to liability,” said Stone. “I don’t see any reason why having a policy on hate or bias incidents would open us to legal action or liability issues, and it’s nothing that any of the lawyers who looked at the policy have brought up.”

Whitman is not the first institution to try to pass a policy to address the difference between a hate or bias-motivated incident and a hate crime, and similar policies to the AAH’s proposed policy exist at other colleges and universities nationwide.

“One of the reasons that we’re so frustrated is that we have tried to address all of the Policy Committee concerns every single time that it has been rejected, and they are still unwilling to pass it on to the faculty or to necessarily continue working with us making this a possibility,” said Stone.

“We would really like to see something happen.”

The AAH would like to resubmit the policy proposal to the Policy Committee later this year if the Committee is willing to revisit the topic.

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