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Students speak out against hate crime, administration

Published: Monday, October 23, 2006

Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02

Hate crimes at UNH are not a new phenomenon. The past two months on campus, however, have seen a rash of finger-pointing and bureaucratic disconnect surrounding hate crime and school accountability issues.

Members of the Diversity Support Coalition, the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and nonaffiliated students are accusing school officials of responding incompetently to direct and indirect bias-motivated assaults that have been reported this semester. These students are also showing their resentment for an alleged silencing of hate crime incidents by the Department of Residential Life and UNH administration.

"I think the administration is spending more time trying to diffuse a bomb rather than working toward preventing violence on campus," said UNH junior Sean Saunders.

Junior Cathy Barbarits agrees. The administration "seems to be looking at us as the problem rather than at the issues we raise," she said.

DSC and OMSA members began aggressively raising these issues in response to an incident that occurred live on UNH's SCAN-TV on Sept. 20, where a campus residence assistant made racist comments on-air. According to the tape of that night's show, the RA, whose name is officially withheld, had been playing a pimp and addressed himself as "F***in' Knuckles Ni**a'-Bi***." Later on in the show, he told a guest in the studio, "You can't say Ni**a'-lips."

Alex Mallis, SCAN-TV's general manager, said the RA turned himself in to his Res Life supervisors and formally apologized for the offense the following week on SCAN-TV. Mallis informed OMSA of what had happened soon after the incident.

On the afternoon of Oct. 12, 12 to 15 members and nonmembers of the DSC and OMSA headed to the Res Life offices at the Hitchcock residence building to stage a sit-in. The protesters spoke with Res Life Associate Director Ruth Abelmann and gave her a list of demands on behalf of past and potential victims of on-campus hate crime. The first demand calls for the offending RA's termination of position.

Res Life Director Scott Chesney said that how his department handles the RA's case "is a private personnel matter," but that "the RA's situation was considered seriously by my central staff and action was taken." The RA in question is still an active employee of Res Life.

"They think we [would] immediately fire an RA who's caught drinking, but that we don't immediately fire an RA who makes a racial slur," said Res Life Assistant Director Shannon Marthouse. "We grapple with these issues as well, but we had more info about the incident than I think some of the student groups have."

Marthouse said that between the beginning of the semester and last Thursday, 31 students have reported direct and indirect bias-motivated incidents to Res Life, compared with 30 a year ago.

"Most of it ranges from racist vandalism to reports of people feeling unsafe because they're being targeted for their sexual identity. Not all of them fall under 'hate crimes.' Most of them fall under this gray area where people legally have the right to say these things," said Marthouse. "But we can verify that [violent hate crimes] are reported."

In light of a litany of violent hate crime incidents this semester for which students have only vague accounts, Deputy Chief of UNH Police Paul Dean said those cases are "open," and that he could not describe them. He said UNH police "are working to identify those responsible for the offensive incidents" and that the department takes bias-related assaults "as a threat to the safety and welfare of the entire UNH community."

As for what school officials are doing to address the protesters' concerns about safety and awareness, Anne Lawing, senior assistant vice president for Student Affairs and director of Student Life, cited a newly developed Bias Response Protocol. The Protocol involves teams of school officials, UNH police, and a student representative who respond to hate crimes on campus in a more organized fashion than before, and inform the broader UNH community of their activity.

"If we feel there is any threat to the campus or our immediate community, we will put out a notice through e-mails and mailboxes," said Lawing. Her plan for Nov. 1 is to write a letter to editors at The New Hampshire asking them to print all the information collected through the Protocol.

Meanwhile, students in the DSC office at the MUB are digging in their heels.

"Someone has to take responsibility, starting with Res Life…this is their job," said Selina Taylor, who is a member of the Black Support Union (BSU), the Sexual Harassment And Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP) and Chi-Alpha, a Campus Ministries Christian organization. "Who's going to protect us?"

"There is no accountability," agreed Jen Hill, member of the BSU, the Women's Union and SAGE (Students Advocating Gender Equality). "We need to get rid of victim blaming and make victims feel like it's not their fault."

Sophomore Steve Henry, GLBT (Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender) Alliance president and recently appointed team leader of the Bias Response Protocol, considers the biggest problem surrounding hate crime issues at UNH to be a lack of information-sharing.

"Students perceive that nothing is happening at the administrative level because they aren't getting information back to them that things are actually getting done…They're reporting all these incidents, having them go off into all the different bureaucratic levels, and not getting any immediate response back," he said.

Henry added, "Students not hearing about [hate crime incidents], especially people who are directly affected by them, tends to lead to students [who are] not personally affected by them thinking that these incidents don't happen. There needs to be public reports of them to raise awareness."

Fifty-five concerned students, faculty and administration gathered in the Strafford Room in the MUB on Friday to discuss issues of hate-crime, accountability and safety at UNH. Mark Rubenstein, vice president for Student and Academic Services, conducted the meeting, handing a microphone to anyone who wished to address the room. Though no specific plans of action came out of the meeting, many on both sides of the controversy were able to articulate their positions to open ears.

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