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STUDENT VOICES: Bias-Related Incident vs. Hate Crime: Does It Even Matter?

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STUDENT VOICES: Bias-Related Incident vs. Hate Crime: Does It Even Matter?


The first time I heard the word “bias-related incident” I laughed out loud. My friend was reading the subject line of the email sent by the Vice President for Student Life, Jamie J Woody, and I started to laugh. To my ears “bias-related incident” sounded like a rebranding campaign for the word hate crime. I immediately thought that referring to the alleged bias-related incident as a bias related incident was a toothless effort to dilute the effect of the incident [1] and many of my peers echoed this sentiment.

After all, the 2018 – 2019 Student Handbook doesn’t define or even mention bias related incidents but it does define the term “hate crime” as the following, “Any crime that is motivated by prejudice or hatred based on a person’s age, disability, national or ethnic origin, gender identity/transgender status or expression, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation, other real or perceived identities, or any other impermissible factor.”

According to the recent Megaphone article Southwestern University’s legal team cannot legally define the incident as a hate crime. The term “bias-related incident” was coined to acknowledge actions that were not technically illegal but were motivated by racism.

The American College Personnel Association defines a “bias-related incident” as “any activity that intimidates, demeans, mocks, degrades, marginalizes, or threatens individuals or groups based on that individual’s or group’s actual or perceived  age, ancestry, ethnicity, national origin, ability (physical, psychological, cognitive), sex, gender identity or expression, citizenship or immigration status, marital status, socio-economic class, race, religion, religious practice, sexual identity or veteran status.”

To be frank, debating the technicalities of the incident or debating whether or not a crime had occurred are not among the important conversations to be had. First and foremost, we have to understand that if this altercation did not turn violent, the record of it ever happening would have been lost. The Megaphone wouldn’t have reported on it. It wouldn’t have spread through students and faculty like wildfire. And it certainly wouldn’t prompt a response from the University. It would have been lost, only known and spoken about among certain circles. It would have been spoken about like stale gossip.

Incidents like these shouldn’t prompt discussions relying on technicalities, but rather ones that are rooted in understanding why this incident occurred and whether others like it have ever happened but did not turn violent. This incident should have led to a University-wide discussion of the times racism or sexism hasn’t physically harmed someone but has caused pain.

Where is the reassurance from the administration that minorities are protected by Southwestern’s policy? Why hasn’t this incident prompted people to ask if minorities feel safe on campus? Why isn’t the term “bias-related incident” in the student handbook with instructions on how to report them? Why were students not informed through the University of the incident that occurred on September 13th? When incidents like these take place on campus, why do we rely on “mouthwestern” to spread the news?

It’s time to bring all the times minorities have felt unsafe or uncomfortable on campus into the light and force the greater student body and administration to reckon with it. The absence of the threat of physical harm does not mean the absence of racism, sexism, and xenophobia. As a Pakistani American Muslim woman, I feel confident that I will not be physically harmed while walking at night on campus. But that does not mean that I feel safe.



[1] I was wrong.


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