Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Op-Ed: No, we shouldn't add hate crimes to the Student Conduct Code

Op-Ed: No, we shouldn't add hate crimes to the Student Conduct Code

When I heard that students of color on campus were degraded because of race, I shared the disgust of the entire AU community. However, that sentiment worsened after reading an op-ed littered with misunderstandings of hate crime laws by the Director of the Student Advocacy Center, Will Mascaro.

Despite being at the crux of students issues, Mascaro seems to not understand that we are very much protected from hate crimes already and that the Student Conduct Code is not a collection of statutes or regulations. Although Mascaro’s arguments regarding hate speech and hate crimes can seem great in theory, they fail to address the problems preventing the change we really need.

(Also, before I begin, let me say that if you have been the victim of a hate crime, you are able to report it and I am sure, as per regulation, Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution will assist in finding you the help you need. Here is the link.)

The entire premise of Mascaro’s article, that hate crimes are not in the Conduct Code, is wrong. It may not be specifically mentioned, but Section VI, O states that "violation of local, state, or federal law" is prohibited, and subsection EE furthers this by prohibiting violations of any other “published nonacademic university regulations.”

Additionally, there are many laws federally and in D.C.that protect students from hate crimes, such as the Hate Crimes Act and DC's Bias-Related Crime Act of 1989. Consequently, Mascaro’s article blatantly misinforms readers when it states "unlike federal law, we lack those necessary protections" regarding hate crimes, because the Conduct Code explicitly mentions that we follow these state and federal laws.

Even if the conduct code had no mention of any crimes, it wouldn’t matter, because college is not a “Lord of the Flies” dystopian nightmare where the rules of the adult world no longer apply. Every whiz kid who paid attention in their high school government course knows the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution allows for federal law to supersede state law, and states govern within their borders. I would be terrified if only things explicitly mentioned in the Conduct Code were enforceable laws because there are some other glaring omissions, such as murder and kidnapping.

Obviously, crimes committed on campus are investigated by civil authorities, and I doubt anyone disagrees that disciplinary hearings pale in comparison to criminal proceedings. Likewise, Mascaro’s article mentions Title VI, which is intended to protect against administrative discrimination, not hate crimes. If he wanted to cite specific requirements for universities reporting hate crimes, he should look up the Clery Act, which includes requirements for reporting hate crimes and disciplinary proceedings that are prompt, fair, and impartial.

Fundamentally, hate crime laws have not solved the alienation minorities are experiencing on college campuses. Motivations are subjective. It is hard to prove any action was motivated solely out of hatred of race, sex, gender, etc., and it is even harder to codify intent in a law. There are no clear cut hate crimes, and victims of racially motivated crimes fall prey to vaguely worded statutes and a system that has a long history of providing more justice to privileged groups.

Furthermore, white individuals are typically afforded greater access to legal protections, like attorneys, friendly police officers and overly-sympathetic judges. So instead of hate crime laws helping those who are victimized -- often those belonging to various minority groups -- the statutes are manipulated to accuse minorities of committing hate crimes against those with a long history of perpetrating them. Changing the laws doesn’t change the makeup of a justice system that is disproportionately white and has shown itself to be biased against minority communities across the U.S.

Understandably, hate crime statistics confirm this phenomenon. In a system where minorities comprise only 27 percent of local police forces and 25 percent of district court judges, is it surprising to see the difficulties minorities would face in reporting hate crimes? According to the FBI's 2014 Hate Crime Statistics, 42 percent of all hate crime offenders are white, while black individuals make up around 16 percent.

Making the grand assumption that each race commits hate crimes equally, the disproportionality is still apparent considering 62 percent of the population are non-Hispanic whites, while 13 percent of the U.S. population is black. According to the Washington Times, even the District of Columbia reflects this disparity, with a majority of hate crime offenders being black and, surprisingly, the majority of victims being white. These hate laws do stop some deplorable crimes of a few, but it doesn’t change the composition of the unjust system.

Change comes from joining collectively to combat the ignorance of the bigoted. Instead of encouraging a solution based on coming together, Mascaro’s op-ed was the suggestion of "a specific, unique violation for students who verbally or physically attack others," which seems to hint at the inclusion of a speech code in our Conduct Code. This would only exclude those who need to be in these discussion, and limit the scale of change.

Further, there is no such thing as a "verbal attack." Threats and fighting words should be and are regulated, but ignorance and offensive language is not an attack. Psychological principles are so intertwined with popular culture that we now equate mental harm with physical harm and seek to regulate it. Mental harm is not regulated as harm under hate crime laws, and regulating speech only polarizes those who express unpopular speech. We should seek to encourage conversation with those who hold principles different than ours, not shut it down or drown it out.

The worst part is that this type of regulation not only inhibits academic conversations, but it is entirely ineffective, as seen in the notorious Michigan Speech Code. As in the case of hate crime laws, the speech code was intended to help curb hateful speech towards minorities, but instead was used as a tool against them. Within the 18 months that the ban on hate speech was in effect, 20 cases were made against black students by white students using the speech code. These codes are pushed by students, not realizing that the administration will be the one to implement it. When there is only regulatory change, those in power use the tools to benefit themselves, and those silenced by speech codes used them to silence those the codes were created to protect.

When there is bias in our culture, changing the environment needs to come out of collective action, influencing those who even hold beliefs that are seemingly despicable. Regulating speech will just alienate and anger those who are silenced. We ought to fight for a more equal system, where minorities are included in all classes and all professions, and where we can get rid of the advantages that white communities have at the expense of minorities.

Assaulting other students for the color of their skin, or any reason, should be punished. Expressing ignorance through offensive remarks should be combatted with engagement and information, not regulation. This trend of yelling to drown out speakers and attempting to shut down different opinions, because you can’t stand that someone would dare disagree with you, displays the same ignorance you wish to quash.

Jack Williams is a senior in the School of Public Affairs.

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