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Colleges and Universities See Increase in Hate Crimes

At institutions of higher learning, including many of America's leading universities, hate is becoming commonplace.

Jesse Davis and TerAndre Graham were only trying to cross the street. Heading for the home of a friend just off the campus of University of Kentucky last fall, the two students were set upon by some 10 white men.

The men rained racist curses on Graham, who is black, and choked him until he couldn't speak or move. Davis, who is white, was dealt a broken hand and nose amid cries of "n------lover."

"I definitely thought I was going to lose my life," Graham said later. Added Davis: "I didn't know that much hate existed."

Across the nation, colleges and universities are experiencing hate — both hate crimes and less drastic incidents of bias — first-hand. On and around the leafy campuses where America's "best and brightest" get their educations — places long assumed to be among the nation's most tolerant and broad-minded enclaves — violent racism and homophobia are becoming frighteningly commonplace.

"Hate is part of our culture," says Jack Levin, an expert on hate crime at Northeastern University in Boston. "So we shouldn't be surprised that some of the most conventional and brightest of our young people, those who attend colleges and universities, harbor these feelings of prejudice and bigotry."

Sometimes, it's hard not to be surprised.

At SUNY Maritime College in the Bronx, 21 Arab students flee after a series of assaults and incidents of racist harassment. At Brown University in Rhode Island, a black senior is beaten by three white students who tell her she is a "quota" who doesn't belong.

At the State University of New York at Binghamton, three students are charged in a racially motivated assault that left an Asian-American student with a fractured skull. A Harvard resident tutor quits after being subjected to homophobic vandalism. E-mail threats and slurs are sent to 30,000 students and faculty at Stanford University, along with others at many other schools.

Holocaust deniers publish their screeds in campus newspapers and, in a few cases, are backed up ideologically by professors like Arthur Butz (see The Professors) at Northwestern University.

The Tip of the Iceberg
Last fall, in the first such incident in years, two pipe bombs went off in men's rooms at historically black Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. After the first attack, an anonymous caller told a local television station that he wanted to "get rid of some of them n------."

After the second attack, a caller to the same station said that blacks "got no business having a college where there ain't nobody ... smart enough to get a degree." A local white man was ultimately charged.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Almost weekly, new reports of hate crimes on college campuses make the headlines. The FBI, in its latest compilation of state hate crime statistics, reported about 250 campus incidents in 1998. But experts agree that that number almost certainly vastly underrepresents the real level of campus hate crimes.

Perhaps more startling than the absolute number is the fact such crimes represent 9% of the total number of hate crimes nationwide — a figure that makes campuses the third most common venue for hate crimes.

Far more common than hate crimes are campus "bias incidents" — events that do not rise to the level of prosecutable offenses but that may nevertheless poison the atmosphere at a college and lead to more serious trouble.

One academic journal, The Review of Higher Education, estimated recently that a total of 1 million bias incidents occur every year on American campuses — the vast majority of them unreported to campus authorities or police.

Howard Ehrlich of the Prejudice Institute, a long-time expert on "campus ethnoviolence," estimates 20% of students at most report bias and hate crime incidents to campus officials. And those officials, despite laws requiring them to report hate crimes to the federal government, often fail to do so, a 1998 study by the U.S. General Accounting Office found.

"Universities are trying to recruit diverse student bodies," explains Raymond Winbush, director of Fisk University's Race Relations Institute, "and they don't want to publish this information because they think it would prevent many students from coming."

Indeed, so acute was this concern that last year, Skidmore College's dean of admissions seized 1,200 copies of the New York school's student newspaper just before an open house for prospective students. The newspaper's offense? It contained an article about feces being smeared on a lesbian student's automobile.

The stakes are high. Consider the case of the University of Missouri at St. Louis, which hosts a local National Public Radio station. When a Klan group tried to underwrite the NPR news show "All Things Considered," the school refused. After the Klan sued in 1998, school officials testified that they believed publicity linking the university to the Klan could cost $5 million a year in lost gifts and tuition.

Diversity as the Enemy
How is it that hate has become a campus fixture? Aren't American institutions of higher learning supposed to be bastions of open-mindedness? The Intelligence Report conducted scores of interviews, gathered key statistics and reviewed incidents at 140 campuses over the last two years to answer these and other questions.

If social psychology's "contact hypothesis" is correct — if encounters with people unlike oneself are the path to greater tolerance and understanding — today's students should be more accepting of difference than ever. In 1976, a decade after the height of the civil rights movement, 15.4% of U.S. college students were racial or ethnic minorities; by 1996, the latest figure available, 26.1% were. And gay and lesbian students have come out in record numbers in recent years.

For many students, this campus diversity clearly does open minds. But for some, many of whom grew up in racially monolithic suburbs, it slams them shut.

"As colleges and universities diversify, the transition from home to school can be extremely threatening," says Brian Levin, an expert on hate crime. "Students are finding themselves outside their homogenous element, dealing with diversity up close for the very first time. And some dig in and react against it."

In fact, it is often expressions of diversity that trigger hate and bias incidents on campus. Gay pride or black history month posters, for instance, often become message boards for hateful graffiti artists.

Events like a recent gay pride march at Texas A&M — where a male student shouted "Aggies, not F------" into the face of a marching female student — can spark deep resentment and even violence.

In the midst of national publicity about the 1998 attack on gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, students at a Colorado State University fraternity reacted. In a clear reference to Shepard, who was left to die while lashed to a rural cattle fence, frat members built a float featuring a scarecrow for a homecoming parade. Spray-painted on the effigy were the words "I'm Gay" and "Up My Ass."

Affirmative action and expressions of identity politics — black studies programs, for instance, or gay rights organizations — also play a part in many white students' resentment.

A recent E-mail to William Pierce, leader of the nation's leading neo-Nazi group, the National Alliance, reflects such feelings: "There are all kinds of groups here: a gay organization, a black student organization, far left-wing groups and an animal rights group and so on," wrote the anonymous post-doctoral student at an unnamed Ohio university.

"But if someone wanted to create an organization for Whites ... that posed the question: "What's wrong with a separation of the races," I am sure that person would be drummed out."

The sight of interracial friendship also can be enraging to some. Karl Nichols, a white residence hall director at the University of Mississippi, learned that first hand this spring.

Capping a series of anti-black incidents, two chunks of asphalt were hurled through Nichols' window — one of them attached to a note warning, "You're going to get it, you Godforsaken n------lover." The next night, someone tried to set Nichols' door on fire.

A school report on the incidents concluded that Nichols "may have violated racist taboos ... by openly displaying his affinity for African-American individuals and black culture, by dating black women, by playing [black] music ... and by promoting diversity" within his dormitory.

'We Can't Stay Because They Hate Us'
Academic pressures on students frequently add fuel to this potentially volatile mixing of diverse communities. "We see very high levels of competition, for grades, for campus resources and for jobs," says Northeastern's Jack Levin. At elite schools, Levin adds, the combination of hypercompetitiveness and diverse student populations "may ironically give them the highest volume of hate crimes."

Ebony Thompson found that out the hard way. An African-American student at prestigious Brown University, Thompson says she was kicked, elbowed in the face and prevented from returning to her dorm room by three "drunk white males" before dawn one day last February. Thompson's sin was that she had failed to open the dormitory door for the inebriated students.

One of her assailants, Thompson reported, said "I'm a quota, I don't belong here, I'm only here because my parents have money." Although a school investigation did not officially attribute the incident to racism, one student was expelled and the others sanctioned.

Seeing campus competition as a struggle between groups may help explain why minorities who aspire to leadership positions also become targets. When Congolese student Fabian Zinga ran for student body president at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, his posters were defaced with racial slurs and torn down.

And it didn't stop there. "We're going to hang you from a tree, n-----," said a message on Zinga's answering machine — one of several such telephone threats he received.

Sometimes, incidents like these can snowball into campus-wide crises like that which hit SUNY Maritime College last September. Shortly after midnight, first-year roommates Faisal Ahmad and Ahmen Alkhaldi were awakened by an attack by five intruders who beat them in their rooms. Abdul Alshammali, another freshman, woke at 3 a.m. to an attack by a masked assailant who cut him twice with a metal object before Alshammali managed to force him out and lock his door.

Within eight days, 21 students from Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar had quit the New York school, citing harassment by upperclassmen and an inadequate response to the attacks by school administration officials.

"We love this place," a dismayed Alkhaldi told a New York City newspaper. "But we can't stay here because they hate us."

While these kinds of attacks seem incredible to many, the fact is that most hate crimes nationwide are committed by youths under the age of 22 — precisely the age group of most college students.

Adding to these young peoples' volatility is the fact that they are often in the midst of a youthful identity crisis, rebellion against their parents and taking control of their own lives for the first time. In this milieu, experts say, it is not so surprising that some students act in ugly ways.

On the Outside, Looking In
Just as many students react poorly to encounters with others who are different, so do some people who are not connected to the campus.

College campuses are often starkly different demographically from than the communities that surround them — a situation that seems to help fuel the fires of hatred. Seeing people unlike themselves in college and bound for success, some off-campus haters react violently.

In fact, they are responsible for some of the worst violence against students.

Shouting "Jesus hates f------," 37-year-old Gary Blaine Grayson allegedly plunged a knife into the back of a gay University of Arizona junior last fall and then boasted he had "killed a f------ f-----." (Prior to this attack, for which Grayson was charged with attempted murder, a series of incidents including a cross-burning hit the same campus.)

In Boston, Dean Rafferty was charged with battery and assault for an anti-gay attack on two Tufts University students, one of whom suffered a broken nose.

In Ohio, teenagers Steve Cole and Jeffrey Eberle were charged with felonious assault for allegedly fracturing the skull and a facial bone of a black Miami University sophomore as they shouted slurs.

In a particularly notorious case, an avowed white supremacist beat Malcolm Boyd with a metal pipe outside a Fresno State fraternity party in 1997. After several months in a coma, Boyd, who was about to graduate when he was attacked, was left partly blind and paralyzed — and facing medical bills of over $1 million.

Boyd's encounter with organized white supremacy around his college campus is not that surprising. For many years, hate groups have tried to reach out to students in a bid to drum up new recruits.

The neo-Nazi National Alliance, for instance, regularly sends literature to student governments; last year, a student editor at Worcester (Mass.) State College even printed Pierce's diatribe attacking James Byrd Jr., who was dragged to death in Jasper, Texas, as a "Black criminal."

Bradley Smith, a leading Holocaust denier, recently paid for a 24-page "historical revisionist" tract to be inserted in a dozen campus publications. Matt Hale, leader of the neo-Nazi World Church of the Creator, has extensively leafleted campuses. And activists for many other hate groups have likewise sought to attract college students.

Pierce, himself a former college physics professor, has been especially interested in recruiting bright cadres. In laying out his group's program, Pierce once wrote that Alliance members should engage in "one-on-one recruiting of selected individuals whose training or skills make it possible for them to increase the Alliance's capabilities. Thus, a member who is on the faculty of a university looks for other faculty persons or for exceptional students who are receptive to the National Alliance message." More recently, the National Alliance blanketed the campus of Southwest Texas State University with E-mail propaganda.

E-mail and letters containing threats and slurs — all the easier to make because of the anonymity of their senders — also are increasingly common. Last Christmas Eve, about a dozen letters postmarked Fayetteville, N.C., were sent to historically black colleges around the country.

"We will eventually get rid of all of you," one letter warned. "Year 2000, the war escalates ... we promise. The white race will be preserved forever!" Also in the letters was the acronym RAHOWA — for "racial holy war," the war cry of the neo-Nazi World Church of the Creator.

Thousands of other students in states including California, Massachusetts, Nebraska and North Carolina have received racist or homophobic E-mails — 300 of them allegedly coming from an assistant English professor in Nebraska.

The people who students would logically turn to for help in incidents of hate and bias can be part of the problem. A Hispanic student at Ohio State University, for instance, recently reported being intimidated and called a "w------" by two of her professors.

A more dramatic example came in 1995, when Rutgers University President Francis Lawrence defended affirmative action by saying "disadvantaged" blacks didn't have the "genetic, hereditary background" to score well on tests. He later said he had misspoken, and survived angry calls for his resignation.

In fact, the Prejudice Institute's Ehrlich estimates that 10% of bias-motivated acts on campus are committed by faculty — although teachers, too, can be on the receiving end, as dramatized by the Central Connecticut State University professor whose rug was daubed with a Star of David during a recent burglary.

Brotherly Hate
Bigotry is actually a tradition at many collegiate institutions.

In the aftermath of World War II, more than half of all white Protestant fraternities had racially exclusionary clauses, according to Anthony James, a Coastal Carolina Community College professor who has studied racism and homophobia in fraternities.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 effectively forced many schools to crack down on these policies — the federal government threatened to withdraw funding if school-sanctioned groups had official discriminatory policies — but James and others say racism is alive and well in many frats.

And many remain all-white. As late as 1998, the University of Alabama's white fraternities had never had a single black member in 167 years, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.

"Fraternities often appeal to those members of the academic community who feel threatened by diversity," explains Northeastern's Jack Levin. And once they're in, he says, groupthink dynamics can heighten intolerance to a fever pitch.

The Kappa Alpha Order, which describes Robert E. Lee as its spiritual leader and is fond of displaying the Confederate battle flag, has been implicated in racial incidents for at least a decade. The Louisiana Tech University chapter was placed on probation after a confrontation with black football players in which frat members made racist remarks.

At Millsaps College in Mississippi, Kappa Alphas dressed in Afro wigs and blackface to protest pro-minority initiatives. And the chapter at Marshall University in West Virginia was sanctioned after members yelled racial slurs at a woman at a party.

Kappa Alphas are not alone. Several fraternities and sororities at New Hampshire's Dartmouth College threw a "ghetto party" in which students dressed up as urban African-Americans — a theme that's surfaced at many campuses — while a sorority there promoted a "slave auction" fundraiser. Two Pi Kappa Alphas donned Klan robes for a Halloween party at Auburn University in Alabama.

Fraternity rituals are often marked by intolerance. The Sigma Chi fraternity at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln burned a cross at one of its ceremonies. The Zeta Tau frat at Indiana University was shut down following a scavenger hunt in which pledges were ordered to photograph "any funny looking Mexican (blacksican, extra credit)" and "any midget (black midget, super-extra-credit)."

"Hazing has long been racialized," James says of frat initiations. "Being in a white fraternity has largely been about being an ideal white man, and during hazing, pledges are made to do things to the very opposite effect, wearing blackface or participating in homoerotic activities in order to prove themselves."

Students Lead the Way
Campus officials, who historically have reacted aggressively to hate and bias incidents only after efforts by student activists, are struggling to find constructive approaches.

At the University of Arizona — shaken last fall by incidents including an anti-gay stabbing, an assault on an Asian-American woman and a cross-burning — campus official Lynette Cook-Francis worries that expressions of hatred can "strain the fabric of trust that has developed between different types of students."

"When an incident occurs, colleges have to look at who the victims are in the broadest sense possible," suggests Jack McDevitt, an expert who heads Northeastern University's Center for Criminal Justice and favors a proactive approach. "Schools need to realize that these incidents impact entire communities of students."

By their very nature, hate crimes terrorize not only their immediate victims, but entire classes of people who share group characteristics of those attacked. But less dramatic bias incidents, which typically do not involve physical violence, also leave their victims and others around them scarred.

Fully one third of students who were victimized reported troubles doing schoolwork afterward, Ehrlich says.

"The disruption in my personal life has been profound, and I no longer feel capable of continuing in my capacity as resident tutor," K. Kyriell Muhammad wrote to his fellow Mather House residents at Harvard following four acts of homophobic vandalism outside his room.

Justin Cordova, a student at Colorado State University, gave up his bid to start a gay fraternity after receiving a series of threatening phone messages and coming home one day to find "Go home f-----!" scrawled on his door, a bloody print on the door handle, and a dead rat on his doorstep. (After Matthew Shepard's murder, Cordova says he was inspired to begin his efforts anew.)

In most schools, students have fought back first.

At campus after campus, they have organized major rallies and protests after incidents: last fall, 1,000 students and others rallied at University of Arizona; half the student body at Wofford College showed up for an anti-hate rally after it was revealed that a neo-Nazi was operating a group from his dorm room; and in November, 3,000 students, faculty and others protested at the University of Maryland following a spate of incidents.

School officials, too, are beginning to act. Many of them look to Indiana University, which came up with a model program as early as 1988.

After a group of whites who appeared to be Indiana students attacked a black student jogger that year — and following a major outcry from students at the campus — the school formed a Racial Incidents Team. Two years later, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Anti-Harassment Team was created as well.

Officials strongly encouraged students to report incidents — so much so that in the 1998-99 academic year a total of 223 incidents were logged. The anti-bias teams at the University of Indiana work closely with the school's Commission on Multicultural Understanding.

"If we can find an educational outcome," says Pamela Freeman, a dean who co-chairs the teams and helps devise responses, "it fits well with the mission of higher education."

History and the New Millennium
But still, the situation seems to be worsening. Although white students often remain oblivious, many non-whites say that virtually every minority college student encounters at least some kind of racist harassment, usually in the form of slurs.

Last November, black student leaders at the University of Maryland, where minority enrollment has risen from 25% to 40% over the last decade, received a frightening letter: "Die n----'s [sic] die," it read. "You cannot prepare, for the day will not be announced, but you will all die by the hands of the judge and jury."

"I can't say I was extremely shocked," student government president Juliana Njoku told the Intelligence Report, "because when I first arrived here freshman year, I was greeted by a banner that said, 'Go Home N------.'"

Njoku, who went to the university's president to demand action after the letters arrived last fall, says that students should not see only white-on-black racism. "Black students were targeted," she says, "but Jewish students have also been targeted, as well as gays. Just last week, 14 Asian students found racist scrawlings on their message boards."

It may be Camille Adams, the executive director of Maryland's Black Student Union, who best sums up the shock that is still prevalent among students and administrators when it comes to such incidents at America's institutions of higher learning.

"You read about this in history books," Adams told a reporter this February. "But it is hard to imagine that this could still occur in the new millennium."