Op-ed: AU's Conduct Code needs language on hate crimes

Will Mascaro argues for reforming the Student Conduct Code

Op-ed: AU's Conduct Code needs language on hate crimes

There are a lot of things you can do to receive a conduct violation at our university. I would know: as the Director of the Student Advocacy Center, I lead a team of students who work to defend those accused of committing violations. From being underage with alcohol in your residence hall, to stealing door decorations RAs put on rooms before students move in, there are a lot of different things you can do to get yourself an appointment with the Conduct Office.

But there’s one type of violation that’s missing, an action that, for whatever reason, is absent from AU’s list of prohibited behaviors: hate crimes.

The omission of any mention of hate crimes, or attacks motivated by an individual’s identity, in AU’s Conduct Code is particularly glaring in light of recent events. After a black female student was the victim of a racially motivated attack, I found myself puzzled as I continuously flipped through the code, thinking I had simply missed the section on hate crimes.

That’s not to say that what happened to this student isn’t prohibited under the code; it is. What happened to that student was no doubt harassment, it was no doubt intimidation and it was, in my opinion, an infringement of her rights to live in a safe environment. Naturally, all of these actions are prohibited by the Conduct Code.

But this attack was more than just harassment. It was more than intimidation. It was an attack motivated by the color of this student’s skin, an attack rooted in racism. It was a hate crime, and it should be investigated and adjudicated as one.

The introduction of hate crimes into U.S. federal law happened for a reason. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, it was determined that crimes motivated by an individual’s identity were particularly heinous, so the motivation to target someone because of their identity should be a crime within itself. The concept was created to provide for a more just society, to ensure that people couldn’t be harmed or denied access to crucial rights because of their identity. It added necessary protections to the legal framework for a nation that struggles with racism. Similarly, American University is a community that struggles with racism, and the Conduct Code is our legal framework. But unlike federal law, we lack those necessary protections.

American University is, of course, Title VI compliant in the sense that they uphold federal laws that bar identity-based discrimination. But this is a base standard that all universities across the country adhere to, and it’s not the same as codifying a conduct code violation for hate crimes. 

Adding a specific, unique violation for students who verbally or physically attack others on the basis of their identity is a necessary additional step our community should take. If someone violates our conduct code because of a motivation to attack someone on the basis of their identity, they should be punished for doing so. 

A student who throws a banana at another student because of their race shouldn’t just be found responsible for assault; they should be found responsible for committing a hate crime. We need to call these acts what they are.

Adding hate crime language to a university’s conduct code isn’t a new idea. Multiple universities, public and private, big and small, include specific language that addresses hate crimes. Our neighbor down the street, George Washington University, includes “committing any prohibited act  because of a person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression,” as a violation under their conduct code.

George Mason University, just around the corner in Virginia, includes committing a prohibited act against another student on the basis of their identity as a unique violation under their conduct code. Universities around the country have already taken the steps I am talking about. It’s time for AU to catch up.

This is not an indictment against the Conduct Office. Administrators who work in Conduct are some of the most accessible and engaged university staff I have ever worked with. Rather, this is a call for students, specifically white students who have the luxury of not being directly affected by these attacks, to work with administrative bodies and make this change happen. 

Racism at American University is nothing new. Every year it’s something different: a different attack, a different means of undermining black students and other students of color. While conversations and town halls provide important platforms for people to speak, they haven’t produced the change our community needs. To combat this persistent racism, I think we need to alter and reform the systems that have allowed it to exist in the first place. While it’s certainly not the whole solution, I think reforming the Conduct Code is a good place to start.

Will Mascaro is a junior in the School of Communications and is the Director of the Student Advocacy Center. To get in contact with him, or to apply to join the team working on this proposal, email him at will.mascaro@ausg.org.


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