Thomas Bradley / Campus editor
The new Public Safety Hate Crime email alerts, Ohio State’s effort to inform students of hate crimes on and near campus, might have students pushing delete sooner than the university intended.
Some OSU students remain skeptical about the university’s efforts to combat the recent slew of hate crimes around campus, and even the most visible demonstration of university effort, the email alert system, has been met with ambivalence.
“I’m disappointed with the response, honestly,” said N. Michael Goecke, a Ph.D. candidate in ethnomusicology and a Master of Arts candidate in African-American and African studies. “Much more needs to be done.”
The string of hate crimes began April 5 when “Long Live Zimmerman” was spray-painted on the west wall of Hall Hale, home to Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center. Police said the vandalism referred to George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch leader who killed 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, telling police it was an act of self-defense. Two acts of vandalism were then discovered April 16, including the writing of the word “n—-r” and a swastika on a door in Baker Hall East, and the appearance of “Hang n—–s” spray-painted on a dumpster behind Formaggio Pizza at 20 E. 13th Ave., according to OSU Police.
President E. Gordon Gee also defended the email alerts at a meeting with The Lantern staff Monday.
“Now, we’re not going to do that every time,” Gee said. “We’re going to do it when there are serious issues. But it is substantive in terms of wanting to make sure people are aware of what is happening and to show that together we do care about what people are saying.”
The university enacted the alert system in response to sit-ins by students who demanded change, said Aisha Watkins, a fifth-year in accounting. She said student groups, such as OSU Stand Your Ground, initially pushed for the alerts to shed light on the scope of intolerance around campus.
“If we do put enough light on what’s going on, then we may discourage those crimes,” Watkins said.
However, some students have criticized the new system as being ineffective or, at worst, completely irrelevant.
One criticism of the new system that many students echoed was that, unlike the alert system for other crimes, the hate crime alert system does not warn students of any impending danger.
“It’s kind of weird that the hate crimes are on there because they don’t pose an immediate threat to people,” said James Simmerer, a fifth-year in aerospace engineering. “I don’t see what purpose it serves. They can do the same thing by putting a bulletin up on the Ohio State website. It’s not like an emergency situation that people need to know about right away.”
Watkins, however, said there was value in quickly letting campus know when and where a hate crime occurred.
“I don’t want anything to seem small, because any hate crime isn’t fair,” she said.
Watkins, however, criticized the alerts in another way: she said they don’t do the job they were intended to do.
“I feel that the emails are very vague and they really don’t tell you what’s going on,” she said. “OK, a hate crime happened, but they don’t actually tell you what happened, so you don’t know what to look out for. Was someone attacked, or was it just a note on the wall?”
But despite the varying opinions on the email alert system, a common theme students expressed was that the university had not done all it could to deal with the recent hate crimes.
“I think they can do more,” Simmerer said. “I don’t think the emergency alert system helps in any way. We need more policing. It had to take awhile to spray paint an entire building, right?”
“They did develop a task force to come up with suggestions, but that’s not dealing with the cause of the problem,” Goecke said. “A racial harassment policy needs to be enacted immediately, and not just some type of policy, but a really progressive and innovative policy.”
Javaune Adams-Gaston, vice president of Student Life, defended university efforts and the alert system in a written statement Monday.
“The safety of our students is our top priority,” she wrote. “Public Safety Hate Crime notices, distributed by University Police, allow us to work together as a community to be aware of these situations and provide assistance to law enforcement in identifying and bringing the perpetrators to justice.”
Despite frustration with the crimes, students acknowledged the difficulty that comes in dealing concretely with the specter of racism, and gave credit to the university that this is not something that will be solved overnight.
“I do feel the university is trying to do its best,” Watkins said. “I have never seen such hatred towards anyone as far as crimes going on around campus in all my five years. The frequency of things going on is shocking to me.”
Whether or not the issue of hate crimes will be resolved soon, however, was met with disagreement.
“I think OSU is pretty culturally diverse, and I’ve never personally witnessed any hate crime,” Simmerer said. “Hopefully it will get better, but I don’t think it’s a huge problem right now.”
Watkins, on the other hand, said she does not think things will be so easy.
“I hope to say that change will happen,” she said, “but I see that every 10 or 20 years, we are fighting for the same things: for equality, for respect. I see maybe 20 years from now the same thing happening again.”