Peer colleges stress dialogue on intolerance

Students’ sporting blackface costumes for Halloween and offending slurs found spray-painted on University buildings have provoked residential college forums and, as of today, a campus-wide rally and vigil.

But how has similar controversy played out at other universities?

Columbia University and Macalester College have both seen similar instances of anonymous hate speech and harassment in the past year.

Columbia and Macalester officials said their schools have similarly focused on give-and-take among community members when dealing with offensive behavior on their own campuses. But as at Yale, some students have criticized administrators at the two schools for what they have called an ineffective response.

Two months ago, anti-Muslim graffiti was discovered in a bathroom at Columbia. On Oct. 9, a noose was hung on the office door of a black professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. On Halloween, the office of a Jewish professor at Teachers College was discovered to have been spray-painted with a swastika, and the name plaque on her door was found with an “X” on it.

Elizabeth Midlarsky, the Jewish professor whose office was defaced, said she had been targeted by hateful actions three times prior to the defacement of her office. She said she discovered defamatory leaflets in her office mailbox on three separate occasions — once on Oct. 17 and twice on Oct. 24.

The leaflets included cartoons of a Jewish man similar to caricatures used to slander Jews during the Nazi era, Midlarsky said. Campus security was notified after each incident, she said.

Midlarsky said these types of offenses reflect the continuing pervasiveness of intolerance throughout the country. Still, the intellectual atmosphere within American universities does nothing to combat hatred, she said.

“The social climate of the university is probably better than that in the surrounding community, but we should not expect that walls of ivy keep the bias of the world completely at bay,” Midlarsky wrote in an e-mail.

Columbia’s Director of Media Relations Robert Hornsby said the university cannot comment on the events because they remain under investigation by the New York Police Department. But he said Columbia remains committed to allowing students to express their points of view.

Midlarsky said the university has “in some respects” done a good job of responding to the incidents, but she said some minority groups are often disproportionately viewed as victims of bias relative to other groups.

“It seems to me … that ‘bias’ is too often equated with hatred against people of color,” she said. “Jewish people (and other ‘model minorities’) are often kept out of the conversation.”

Some Columbia students have been critical of the university’s response to the events. Last week, three Columbia and two Barnard students began a hunger strike after what they called the university’s sluggish response to these issues, a Web site set up by the strikers said.

But Hornsby said Columbia administrators have “unequivocally condemned” such acts of hate and have met with students concerned about such issues.

He said Columbia has begun formulating a variety of responses to the offenses that have occurred on campuses. For example, on Nov. 29, the university and its peer schools will hold New York City’s “Day Out Against Hate” in conjunction with the City Council, he said.

And in response to strikers’ demands that Columbia expand its Office of Multicultural Affairs, university administrators said they are reviewing the office with the input of students and outside consultants, according to an article in the Columbia Spectator.

In January, Macalester made national news when two students there dressed up for an on-campus “politically incorrect” party. One student dressed as a KKK member, leading another student dressed in blackface by a noose around his neck, Jim Hoppe, Macalester’s dean of students, said.

Hoppe said Macalester has always taken a firm stance in favor of free speech and constructive student dialogues on campus. Within a few weeks of the incident, Macalester’s student government held an “all-campus forum” with the help of the administration, in order to allow students to vent their frustrations and foster understanding about the issues, Hoppe said.

“We wanted it to be student-driven, but we didn’t want students to feel that we were abdicating responsibility,” he said.

Hoppe said the event had “decent” turnout, drawing about 300 students. Macalester has 1,920 students.

The administration also held meetings with different student groups and individual students who felt impacted by the event, he said.

In March, the college cancelled several class sections in order to give all students a chance to attend a “Day of Change and Exchange,” Hoppe said. At the event, students sat at lunch tables in groups of 12, discussing a list of prepared questions to stimulate discussion about race, Hoppe said.

He said Macalester officials are also examining their orientation and the way it introduces students to the college’s core values.

Natalie Owens-Pike, a freshman at Macalester, said classmates she has spoken with had mixed reactions to the college’s response. Many students on campus thought the administration paid too much attention to what happened, she said. Additionally, some students felt that the administration’s response was insincere, Owens-Pike said.

“There was a lot of frustration between two sides of people that thought what the administration did was over the top or what the administration did was not heartfelt,” she said.

Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry said the University’s response should center on promoting dialogue about diversity among members of the Yale community.

“[The type of response needed] means educating students to be culturally competent in this new world,” Gentry said.

Concerned Yale students and the Yale College Council have organized a “Rally Against Hate,” scheduled for today at 12 p.m. Participating students will meet in front of Pierson College and proceed to the Woolsey Rotunda to listen to speeches by Gentry, Salovey and others.

They will also hold a vigil today at 10 p.m. on Cross Campus.

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