Hate Speech incidents Confirmed

By Henry Burnett

Several incidents of bias and hate rhetoric have been reported to administration following the Nov. 8 presidential election, two administrators confirmed to the Campus in an interview on Monday, Nov. 14.

The College’s Community Bias Response Team sent an initial email to students, faculty and staff on Nov. 10 that said “messages of intolerance are being written and spoken on campus since the election” without details of specific acts.

Katy Smith Abbott, dean of the College, and Miguel Fernandez, chief diversity officer, were the two members of the response team who confirmed the incidents.

Since that email, which did not specify what the messages said, rumors have circulated on campus as to the nature of the messages. Smith Abbott confirmed that one student returned to her dorm room to find “F**k Muslims #Trump2016” written on her door’s whiteboard. That student requested full anonymity when she reported the incident, which is the primary reason why the CBRT email was so vague.

“The bias response team addresses things to the community when it feels it’s needed,” Fernandez said. “In this case, some didn’t want to wait for the investigation, yet at the same time [felt] a need to get something out to say something happened. Because the individual did not want to be identified or have anything identify who it was — even location — that’s why the Community Bias Response Team wasn’t as specific as some people would have liked.” 

Fernandez said he had heard frustrations from both students and faculty about the nature of the community email.

“The reason was predominantly to protect the student,” he said.

In addition to the episode on the student’s white board, the Hillel Jewish student group forwarded to its members an email from Rabbi Ira Schiffer on Tuesday, Nov. 15 after the discovery of a swastika on the door of the Havurah Jewish congregation in the town of Middlebury.

Schiffer called on students to support one another and not stand by if they witness acts of hate.

“We all need to be concerned and aware that when one minority group is targeted in America, all minority groups are vulnerable, and we need to stand together in mutual support and solidarity,” he said in the email. “Please stand up against bigotry and hate whenever and wherever you see it.”

Smith Abbott said other incidents have been reported to administration in addition to the white board message, however “some of them are so recent that I can’t even comment on them. I hesitate to comment before things are even verified,” she said.

She added that although the administration aims to treat every incident report quickly and seriously, certain institutional procedures can prevent the College from notifying the community right away when bias or hate speech occur on campus.

“If students are talking about something but none of us have a report of it, either through a Commons Dean or a Residential Life staff member or something, (a) we can’t act on it, and (b) we don’t have any accurate assessment of whether that particular incident has occurred in the way it’s being described. That doesn’t mean that we don’t take it very seriously,” she said.

Considering the institutional requirements the College faces when addressing reports of bias, Smith Abbott, like Schiffer, called on students to take responsibility for the campus and address hate or bias when they see it happen.

“I think the administration has an important role to play when students bring serious, distressing complaints to us. And we will take action in the appropriate way given whatever the complaint might be,” Smith Abbott said.

She added: “I feel like we’re also in a moment where students have a unique ability and the most impact in terms of determining what the campus ethos is going to feel like, how all students are going to be made to feel as though they are safe here, that their voice matters here, that they belong here. I hope that we can push on that ownership in responsibility as much as we’re pushing on the administration.”