FBI reports school hate crime increase, campus responds

Data is sourced from the FBI report entitled “Reported Hate Crime at Schools: 2018-2022.”

Lily Reslink|Marlin Chronicle

Hate crimes in educational settings, including college campuses, are on the rise, as discovered in a special report from the FBI released this January: “Reported Hate Crime at Schools: 2018-2022.”

While Clery Act data shows that the hate crimes at Virginia Wesleyan have remained at zero, the national increase has drawn attention to the issue.

VWU’s student handbook defines a hate crime as “a criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an actual or perceived offender’s bias against race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, national origin, and disability.”

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR), which is responsible for collecting and publishing this data, defines the term similarly.

“School and college campuses were the third-most common site of reported hate crimes from 2018 to 2022, after homes and roads or alleys, according to the FBI,” Breaking News Reporter Minnah Arshad said in a USA Today article.

Included within the student handbook is VWU’s Freedom of Expression Policy. This policy outlines what forms of expression are acceptable on campus.

It is stated that “the University prohibits expression considered unlawful or that which violates institutional policy or disrupts essential University operations.”

In response to the FBI report, senior and president of the Student Government Association on campus, Eddie McDonald, provided his insight.

“Virginia Wesleyan is definitely not immune from these forces that are going across the whole nation,” McDonald said.

McDonald further illustrated his point. “I think we’re a small enough campus where hate crimes might not necessarily be applicable. I definitely think there has been at least an increased perception in amounts of hate speech and stuff like that. So I think it can definitely happen on our campus, and it’s important to recognize that,” McDonald said.

McDonald provided context for how he feels about the way VWU treats the possibility of hate crimes on campus.

“I think when it comes to actual crimes, our school is really, really good at enacting a pretty robust policy that’s outlined in the Student Handbook. So it’s a pretty strong standard that they go through, when it comes to stuff like assault, or vandalism, or violent crimes of that sort,” McDonald said.

Being a former student athlete, McDonald said he believes that extra emphasis should be placed on athletics.

“I think student athletes should be held to a higher standard than regular students because they’re representatives of the school and because playing a sport here, while definitely people work for it, it is a privilege,” McDonald said.

“I definitely would like to see our athletic department take a little bit more of a proactive approach when it comes to education and disciplinary action in regards to hate crimes and hate speech,” McDonald said.

Senior Vice President Keith Moore provided an administrative perspective on this issue.

“You have a right to say and feel and express, but at the same time, you have to also make sure that you’re not offending and disrupting,” Moore said.

Using Clery Act data, VWU reports any hate crimes that occur on campus, which amounts to zero reported.

Moore felt that the absence of hate crimes on campus is largely due to the students. “I think that it’s not even our prevention methods. It’s our students. Anything that is good, it’s because of our students,” Moore said.

Moore elaborated on this point. “We have rules and regs and policies and everything in place, but that’s so that people know and understand… I really do credit our students with the community that we have, because they are respectful, they do appreciate one another and there’s a real sense of community,” Moore said.

Although Moore said that a hate crime on campus would certainly elicit the involvement of external authorities, one internal policy that is often enacted in cases of student conduct violation is a review in front of the Community Arbitration Board (CAB). Moore explained that the university places a particularly high emphasis on due process, with a system that involves “an opportunity for people to be properly notified,… a student rep, a faculty rep and an administrative or staff representative,” along with a board that reviews the decision. 

Moore said that “when a decision is finally rendered, there are seven individuals from the community that had a say in how it should be managed or resolved. And I think that that brings real merit to our system.”

However, not every method for preventing discriminatory actions on our campus involves policies and due process. Some place a greater emphasis on conversation. One resource that may be associated with addressing hate crime prevention or similar issues on campus is the Robert Nusbaum Center (NC), located in Clarke Hall.

According to the Center’s website page, “frequently the most contentious and polarizing moments in American civic life are related to issues in religion, politics, race, gender, and sexuality.” 

These topics prove relevant, as an article from NBC News by Isabela Espadas Barros Leal points to how recent campus hate crime data reflects that the top three most targeted demographics consist of Black, LGBTQ and Jewish people.

The VWU website page also says “the NC equips and empowers students and community members to be leaders and citizens who value diversity and who understand how the reconciliation of our religious, racial, and ideological differences create meaningful opportunities for civil solutions to difficult and urgent problems.”

Dr. Craig Wansink, Director of the Robert Nusbaum Center said, “The thing that influences me the most is what [the NC] tries to do, is try to get people to think and act in ways that acknowledge the inevitability of conflict, but not the inevitability of that creating dissension.”

Wansink followed this comment with a quote from Viktor E. Frankl, “Between stimulus and response, there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

After mentioning that centers like the NC are relatively uncommon on college campuses, Wansink said, “I’m just grateful that Virginia Wesleyan took a stand to do something like this, you know, every university and every college faces all sorts of pressures, and all sorts of needs, and all sorts of opportunities.”

Wansink explained how the NC serves the community. “We try to bring people together who disagree with each other and create an environment where they can actually communicate where there’s not screaming or shouting or anything like that,” Wansink said.

Kelly Jackson, associate director of the Robert Nusbaum Center, also included her perspective.

“The Nusbaum Center is an inclusive and safe place for everyone and we are a resource to help students to develop skills, to have more civil dialogues and then also to learn about important issues,” Jackson said. 

Data is sourced from FBI report entitled “Reported Hate Crimes at Schools: 2018-2022.”

Lily Reslink|Marlin Chronicle

Much of the NC’s community involvement consists of hosting lectures on campus with keynote speakers. For example, the event on Feb. 16 entitled “A Jew, a Christian, and Spiritual Audacity: The Leadership of Allies during the Civil Rights Era,” welcomed Dr. Michael Panitz to share his perspective on the historical relationship between the African-American and Jewish communities.

Jackson explained her thoughts on how the NC can serve as a prevention method towards hate crimes.

“I think by bringing people together who have diverse perspectives to hopefully generate more understanding across diversity and hopefully build more compassion and empathy for each other,” Jackson said.

Jackson elaborated on this point with a motto of her own. “You can’t hate someone you get to know well,” Jackson said.

She emphasized that people are more complicated than they first appear, and furthering understanding is a necessary process for the center.

“We’re all very complicated individuals. And we’re all products of our environment and life experiences, but if you can take the time to get to know people outside of your little nuclear world, it’s really hard to hate them,” Jackson said.

Wansink concluded by sharing advice. “You have got to get people to stop dominating, to stop and actually think, otherwise it doesn’t matter if people are on the left or the right, whatever that means, mob mentality takes over. And not many people are immune to that even though we all believe we are,” Wansink said.

Although VWU itself does not reflect the increase in hate crimes, conversation surrounding the topic still proves relevant as educational institutions navigate the national problem.

By Isaac Fick