How Are Colleges Handling Hate Crimes?

ByABC News
May 10, 2001, 6:40 PM

May 11 -- When Penn State seniors graduate this weekend, they will see the typical assortment of smiling faces and proud parents but also metal detectors and, in one student's case, university-provided bodyguards.

The unusual security measures prompted by a bomb threat and several threatening racist letters sent to two black students and a trustee are the latest visible evidence of the ongoing struggle with hate crime and race on America's campuses.

Diversity as an Opportunity and a Challenge

It's an issue that has grown in importance as the makeup of colleges across the country has changed.

"There's no place that's as diverse as a college campus," says Oliver Clark, chief of police and director of public safety at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The number of nonwhite students has climbed steadily, and according to a study last year by the Educational Testing Service, minorities will outnumber white college students in California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Washington, D.C., by 2015.

With all that change, diversity has become the largest issue behind unrest on campus, accounting for 39 percent of student protests, according to a study by Arthur Levine, the president of Columbia University's Teacher's College.

Incidents on Campuses Around the Country

Accompanying that unrest have been hate crimes. The Department of Justice says 802 hate crimes at colleges and universities were reported to police in 1999, the most recent year statistics are available. That number has stayed roughly constant since the government began compiling specific hate crime data in the mid-1990s.

Schools such as the University of Maryland and the University of Iowa have coped with racist threats to students in recent years, and an unemployed man was convicted of setting off two pipe bombs at historically black Florida A&M university in the fall of 1999.

Besides threats and acts of terror, institutions often face more minor acts of hate, such as racist graffiti and vandalism. Schools ranging from Stanford University to Mesa State College, in California, had such outbreaks earlier this year, for example.