Recent hate crimes and actions targeting racial, religious and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities at UC Davis and other UC campuses have left the university community wondering what could have motivated these acts of intolerance.
On Mar. 3 – the same day as a student-led march against hate and discrimination – campus police found three swastikas spray-painted on university grounds.
On Feb. 19 a swastika was carved on the door of a Jewish student at the Tercero dormitories. The LGBT Resource Center was also vandalized with defamatory messages targeting the LGBT community.
Incidents that have heightened tensions also occurred on other UC campuses. On Feb. 18, UC San Diego members of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity held “Compton Cookout,” a barbeque event that mocked Black History Month with racial stereotypes.
A noose was also found drawn in a UC Santa Cruz bathroom with the words “lynch” and “San Diego” written next to it. At UC Irvine, 11 students were arrested for interrupting the speech of visiting Israeli ambassador Michael Oren.
Mohamed Buzayan, a sophomore civil engineering major who participated in the anti-bigotry protest, said the lack of swift disciplinary action by university officials for these and other acts may have prompted subsequent crimes.
“They took notice to students at UC San Diego, and they’ve seen no disciplinary action and nobody got caught,” Buzayan said. “So they knew they were going to get away with their crimes and so they went and started committing them.”
Even so, he said action against those responsible represents short-term answers to a long-term problem.
Buzayan urged the UC administration to educate students, starting at the first-year level, about diversity and appreciating equality. He believes this would teach students about acceptable behavior on campus and prevent further bigotry.
“We need to start showing students that this is not tolerable, that we’re not going to take this anymore,” Buzayan said. “I’m not just thinking about me. I worry about the future right now.”
His proposal is part of a set of 11 demands published by UC Davis students concerned with discrimination, which includes calls for increased hiring of “minority faculty” and admission of students without regards to race.
Yet because no one has been caught, hate crime experts can only speculate on the motivations that may have compelled those responsible.
Gregory Herek, a UC Davis professor of psychology, said that hatred may have played a role in these crimes, but peer pressure to commit vandalism or thrill seeking could have also motivated them to do it.
“I’d say that we don’t necessarily know what the motivations of the perpetrators are,” Herek said. “Whoever did it, it’s quite possible that they believe that somehow committing these actions would receive approval from the larger society, that they felt a sense of permission.”
Bruce Haynes, UC Davis professor of sociology and expert on race and ethnic group relations, said that while the ideas of diversity and inclusiveness should not be equated entirely with the hate crimes, they are related issues.
“Someone puts nooses around campus or makes gay and lesbian students feel threatened,” Haynes said. “That’s very different than do we have a campus climate of inclusiveness and that’s still different than do we have a diverse student body, a diverse faculty body or administration. I do think it draws attention to the lack of diversity that is apparent on our campus, and many of other UC campuses.”
In 1999, Herek co-authored a study on hate crimes that targeted lesbians, gays and bisexuals which found that hate crimes based on sexual identity caused their victim to experience more depression, anxiety, anger and traumatic stress than victims of non-biased crimes.
More recently, Herek has documented the prevalence of sexual orientation crimes. In a 2009 national study, 20 percent of respondents reported personal and property crimes based on sexual identity. One in 10 said they experienced housing and employment discrimination.
He said these recent crimes might add to the existing vulnerability felt by the targeted groups.
“This was not a new experience for them,” Herek said. “It was simply consistent with things they’ve felt all along.”
Speaking on the impact these acts might have on race relations, Haynes said the increased racial awareness of students was a positive response despite some of the episodes being unrelated.
“When the Klan comes to your town to march,” Haynes said, “I think the best thing to do is to counter-protest, that makes clear community sentiment. I do think a vocal response is appropriate.”
LESLIE TSAN can be reached at email@example.com.