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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, April 19, 2024

The sound of silence

On Wednesday, April 13, 1988, the Daily Cardinal reported that 'a female student was called a 'fucking nigger,' beaten, strangled and thrown to the ground on the 1400 block of University Avenue. The white male who attacked her repeatedly screamed he was 'going to kill her and all the other niggers'' ('Black woman attacked as bystanders do nothing'). 

 

 

 

The incident, in which the white perpetrator managed to get away, is likely the most well-known hate crime to ever occur in the UW-Madison community. Yet it is an incident that predates 1988 hate-crime legislation and therefore is not documented as a hate crime involving UW-Madison students. 

 

 

 

According to UW Police Sgt. Jerome VanNatta, in his six years with UW Police, not one hate crime involving UW-Madison students has been prosecuted, and he said it is likely that there has never been a prosecuted hate crime. VanNatta said, however, that this does not mean hate crimes are not occurring. 

 

 

 

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'We have a huge problem with underreporting on campus, and people, for whatever reason, don't come to us,' he said. 'We don't know what things are happening.' 

 

 

 

Aside from the fact that many hate crimes likely go unreported, the legal definition of hate crimes, which excludes most verbal harassment and hate speech as protected by the First Amendment, limits the number of crimes. 

 

 

 

'You can have a disorderly conduct or battery or a murder or any of those crimes and it can be a hate crime,' Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard said. 'But as a real rough guess [in Dane County] we prosecute for hate crimes maybe only half-a-dozen times a year.' 

 

 

 

Among those prosecuted, nearly all are isolated incidents, and Blanchard said he is unaware of any case in Dane County ever being generated by a national news event such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. 

 

 

 

VanNatta said he is not aware of a measurable change in harassment or assault on campus as a result of last month's terrorism either, but there has been some fear of an increased risk for hate crimes. 

 

 

 

'I do know that many of our residents up in the Eagle Heights region who are of the Muslim faith have been very alarmed,' VanNatta said. 'And as a result we've tried to increase awareness about these things.' 

 

 

 

Sixth-year UW-Madison student Tyler Whipple, a Muslim student and member of the Multicultural Student Coalition, said last month's terrorism has led to an increased dialogue on campus about cultural and religious differences, and some students have even come to him wanting to learn more about his religious beliefs. 

 

 

 

It is cases like these, in which students take the initiative to learn about their differences that are often the most influential, Assistant Dean of Students Suzanne Jones said. 

 

 

 

'It's a sort of strange irony that this is a place where education and thoughtful discourse takes place, but in effect you have the size of a small city, and you have these sort of issues of harassment and hate,' Jones said. 'I think maybe the most important kind of response here to these things is when students respond themselves.' 

 

 

 

Although in light of the Sept. 11 attacks the main emphasis on campus has been to raise awareness about hate crimes toward people of color. Sara Hinkel, student services coordinator for the dean of students, said in the last year reported racial harassment has decreased, but homophobic harassment has increased. 

 

 

 

'From year to year the overall number of incidents is pretty consistent, but the incidents vary, and it's always tough to get students to report,' Hinkel said. 'Oftentimes students don't know who is responsible, and a lot of things happen that aren't crimes.' 

 

 

 

According to VanNatta, most hate crimes on campus are anonymous threats that come across e-mails and are left on message boards in the dorms, making them hard to trace. These threats are often severe enough to prosecute, but the persecutor is rarely caught. 

 

 

 

In recent years some of the most devastating anonymous hate crimes have been directed at Jewish students. In 1999, The Daily Cardinal reported that seven UW-Madison students awoke to find swastikas etched on their vehicles ('UW students victims of vehicle vandalism,' Feb. 22, 1999). 

 

 

 

The incident in 1999 was the third of the academic year and resulted in about $10,000 in damages. Greg Steinberger of Hillel, the student Jewish center, said a series of programs resulted from the issues risen by the vandalism. This programming has continued most notably in the form of the Collaboration for Understanding Social Progress. 

 

 

 

'CUSP is a program that came out of our 'Swastika to Jim Crow' film [a colaboration between MCSC and Hillel to build a partnership between students of color and Jewish students] last year,' Steinberger said. 'After the film, a lot of students got together in the spring and did a program with the Multicultural Student Center.' 

 

 

 

'Since Sept. 11, we have had students come in and say they want to come together and build more partnerships,' he said. 

 

 

 

Hinkel said building partnerships between different student groups and students of different background creates a climate where crimes are less likely to occur. She said this helps raise awareness and visibility, and she cites programs like the LGBT-oriented Allies program, which offers various LGBT events and services, as programs which students of all backgrounds should get involved in. 

 

 

 

Whipple said in his five years on campus he has not seen the campus climate change too much, and he too stressed the need for all students to get involved. 

 

 

 

'As long as we have students of color fighting against the status quo, then we get an us-versus-them mentality,' Whipple said. 'I think that one of the major things that needs to be done is there's a lot of stereotypes, and we need to get rid of them by working together.' 

 

 

 

Because so few incidences of hate crime and harassment are reported, UW-Madison sociology Professor Pam Oliver said it's nearly impossible to gauge whether the campus climate has improved since the 1988 hate crime, but she said her students are still harassed regularly. 

 

 

 

'Lots of students, Asians in particular, have written in their journals that walking down Langdon Street things are said to them, and these sort of things don't get reported,' Oliver said. 'There is a lot of casual name-calling, and a lot of students don't even think of it as something that's particularly bad.' 

 

 

 

Former MCSC Vice Chair and UW-Madison junior Pabitra Benjamin said at times she thinks attitudes are changing in the wrong direction on campus, and she said she feels sometimes that the more issues are brought up, the more students are turned off. 

 

 

 

'So many people attack us for the work we do,' she said. 'I think it's actually gotten worse, especially last year when some people saw all the issues about diversity as funny.' 

 

 

 

Benjamin said she and the MCSC are currently working to promote teach-ins, lectures and other such programs that help create campus dialogue. 

 

 

 

'There are so many things you can take advantage of,' she said. 'Go to these things. Students stay in their own closets too much.' 

 

 

 

Benjamin said student security should be 'the primary priority' at the university. 

 

 

 

'People pay tuition, and they should at least feel safe on campus,' she said.

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