Lovin’ ‘Hate Crimes’

Some just can’t seem to get enough

Is the KKK rising to prominence once again on Manhattan’s Upper West Side? As strange as this sounds, the rhetoric surrounding a disturbing but overblown racially-charged vandalism incident at Columbia might lead one to think so.

It is important to reflect on this misdeed, not because it exposes a “pattern of ignorance” or “atmosphere of racial tension” as many at Columbia are quick to allege, but because it demonstrates a broad and dangerous pattern of students at diverse liberal universities resorting to histrionics in the face of small, isolated occurrences.

The incident in question involved two very drunk young college males who seemingly decided to play a prank on one of their girlfriends by adorning her suite with swastikas and ludicrously incoherent statements such as “I love Adolf because he is king.” Realizing their tasteless mistake, they attempted to paint over the graffiti the next morning, only to be caught by police before they could complete their cleanup.

The two face not only up to four years in prison for a felony charge of criminal mischief as a hate crime, but they have provoked an outcry against a campus environment allegedly fraught with racism.

University President Lee Bollinger went as far as to say that “the entire Columbia community is injured when any of its members are made, unjustly to feel vulnerable.” One student even told the Columbia Spectator that the whole thing made her afraid to go to class. Yet, the contention that anyone was made to feel vulnerable when the perpetrators were so scared by what they had done that they immediately tried to cover it up is ridiculous.

In fact perhaps the only students made to feel truly vulnerable were those who did not immediately decry the vandalism incident. One of the victims of the “hate crime,” Cassie Herr, a roommate of the girlfriend in question, comfortably played the race card at a rally deriding the events. “I don’t see enough white faces,” she said. “We are the majority and…it is our job to make sure that everyone…feels supported here.” Apparently this is a new take on the white man’s burden.

Herr’s roommate, Daphne Rubin-Vega, offered incoherent musings about broad-based intolerance. “I also don’t want people to think that [the vandalism] is what racism is,” she said. “Racism is much more subtle.”

Perhaps the comments of Herr and Rubin-Vega can be excused, however, as they did have to endure some rather disturbing images on their walls. What should not stand is the shameless exploitation of the vandalism by those with other agendas.

Student Tasha Amezcua alleged shortly after the incident that “this university has a racist history and we need that to be gone.” She added: “We have issues with the Columbia curriculum and our core classes in terms of them just being about dead white men; that’s not what the world is any more, that’s not what New York is…it’s very alienating in the classroom.”

Aside from their factual inaccuracy—Columbia requires a minimum of two non-Western culture courses, four terms of foreign language, and includes female and minority authors in its required Western Civilization classes—her statements foolishly give weight and power to dolts who still engage in prejudiced behavior.

Unfortunately, Harvard is not immune from this sort of misplaced outrage. Last semester, some belligerent drunk, white trash, townie hooligans’ minor altercation with a gay student led to campus-wide condemnation of anti-gay violence. More than 1,200 pink bandanas were distributed to show solidarity with the victim, and students even marched to “take back” the site where the incident took place.

The orgy of empathy even spurred Assistant Dean of the College Paul J. McLoughlin II to suggest that “there’s still a lot of work to be done” with regard to campus tolerance. Yet no one offered any real ideas on how to stop drive-by homophobia on the streets of Cambridge, which most likely occurred because the University has little power in this area to begin with.

In fact, the incident was so unrelated to homophobia on campus, that it makes one question whether some students saw it more as means toward publicity.

Hate crimes are terrible acts of ignorance that hurt the entire communities of the victims involved. But if this label is too quickly attached or used toward other ends, it is stripped of all meaning and all moral authority on the subject is lost.

Often it is more effective to turn one’s back to the few remaining pockets of intolerance and let them whither away. Recently a Muslim student was chided as a “filthy Jew-hater” by a woman near Lamont Library. Rather than exacerbating the incident, she simply called the police and acknowledged that the isolated event did not reflect the norm at Harvard. Whoever uttered those hateful words did not face harsh rebuke by the student body, but just deafening silence that marginalized her more than any rally ever could.

If only the students at Columbia had realized that the vast majority are so opposed to racism that it is easy to calmly snuff out the few places where it remains. Instead, they chose to risk rekindling the flame with their unnecessary fury.

John W. Hastrup ’06 is a government concentrator in Dunster House. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.