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Hate Crimes on the Rise at UC Berkeley

The UC Berkeley campus June 19, 2007
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The UC Berkeley campus June 19, 2007
Spike in reported crimes came after university launched major diversity initiative

The number of hate crimes reported at the University of California, Berkeley, jumped last year, according to statistics from the University of California Police Department.

Incidents of bias-motivated violence and vandalism reported to police rose to 18 last year, up from three in 2009 and six the year before that, according to campus police. No cases were reported in 2006 or 2007. In addition, there were three other incidents of possible hate crimes in which the victims declined to file a police report.

Ten of the reported incidents involved religious bias. They included at least six swastikas that were etched around campus on items including a dorm-room door, a toilet-paper dispenser in a public restroom and a wooden cabinet in a study lounge, said Margo Bennett, a captain with the UC Berkeley Police Department.

Although campus police investigated all of the hate crimes that were reported in 2010, officers only made one arrest — in a case "involving verbal slurs that were homophobic in nature," Bennett said in an email.

It is difficult to pinpoint why reports of hate crimes increased, university officials say. One reason, according to campus police, may be that more students and faculty recognize the importance of reporting such incidents. In addition, in January 2008, the federal government broadened the definition of hate crimes, requiring universities that receive federal funding to report incidents of vandalism motivated by bias.

“People are more finely tuned to hate crimes, and they care enough to report it and hopefully to interrupt it,” Bennett said. “But we also know that there are more incidents than are ever reported.”

The spike in reported incidents followed the launch in early 2010 of a campus-wide diversity initiative funded by $16 million from the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund. Among other things, the money paid for faculty positions in the Haas Diversity Research Center, whose goal is "to study and promote remedies for disparities caused by race, gender, sexual orientation, disability and socioeconomic status across the state, nation, and world," spokesman Jose Rodriguez said in an email.

When the initiative was announced, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said it would make UC Berkeley "more inclusive" and therefore "progressively more attractive to people from diverse backgrounds."

But one of the goals of the Haas-funded program — reducing hate crimes on campus — has proven elusive, said Allan Creighton, a social justice and violence prevention educator for University Health Services at UC Berkeley.

“The university as an institution reflects the larger societal trend of inequality,” Creighton said. “This is not going to be over in anybody’s lifetime."

Tensions between racial and ethnic groups on campus flared this week when the Berkeley College Republicans held an "Increase Diversity Bake Sale" to protest a bill passed by the state Legislature that would allow public universities to consider race, gender and ethnicity in admissions decisions. The UC Berkeley student government had lobbied in favor of the bill, which is now before Gov. Jerry Brown.

As part of the bake sale, the Republican group announced plans to charge different prices based on customers' racial and ethnic backgrounds. According to the price list, which the group claimed was meant as satire, white men would pay the most for a baked good, while female Native Americans would pay nothing.

The pricing scheme outraged groups across campus. 

In response, the student senate on Sunday passed a measure condemning discriminatory events on campus, even those intended as satire. Legions of students weighed in on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, sparring over the bake sale and diversity on campus.

"The bake sale was just an open and blatant symbol of the daily experience of unrepresented students at UC Berkeley and throughout the UC system," said Salih Muhammad, chairman of the Black Student Union on campus. "Our greater concern is with the climate at UC Berkeley and throughout the UC System — a climate which is not diverse, equitable nor inclusive and continues to allow numerous acts of disrespect to already-marginalized groups of people."

Shawn Lewis, president of the Berkeley College Republicans, defended the bake sale, saying it had spurred a healthy national debate about diversity. 

"The hate crimes that have happened here were blatantly ignorant and hateful," Lewis, a junior majoring in political science, said in a telephone interview. "Our event goes nowhere near those acts. We had a controversial event, but it had a political point."

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