The October murder of a gay University of Wyoming student has raised alarms among educators who fear that hate crimes on and around college campuses may be growing. While it is impossible to know if that is true on the basis of available statistics, there is little question that campuses have seen a wave of recent bias crimes.
In Minnesota, a college president threatened to resign after a series of racist incidents. In Maine, three white college hockey players allegedly threatened the life of a black student. Hate-fueled fires have been set in Georgia and Michigan dormitories. In North Dakota and Pennsylvania, students have been the victims of racist attacks.
Anti-black or anti-Asian E-mail has been sent to hundreds of students in California, Massachussetts, Nebraska and North Carolina — some 300 of the computer messages allegedly coming from an assistant English professor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
In 1997, at least 20 college newspapers ran ads for the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust, a Holocaust denial outfit. The Anti-Defamation League also reported that campus anti-Semitic incidents were up to 104 last year from 90 in 1996.
Colleges and universities traditionally have been extremely reluctant to report crimes on campus, fearing the publicity would drive students and donors away. In fact, despite a federal law requiring the reporting of certain campus hate crimes, just five of 25 institutions studied by the General Accounting Office last year even had such a category.
By coincidence, the same week that Matthew Shepard was abducted near his Wyoming campus, a bill strengthening campus hate crime reporting requirements was signed into law. Sponsored by Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), the law expands the types of hate crimes that must be reported by colleges that receive federal funds.