The Wire

School Pride and Prejudice: Hatred on College Campuses

All across America, hate crimes and speech on college campuses continue to be a reality for many students.

Students+at+University+of+Oklahoma+Protesting+Recent+Racist+Sigma+Alpha+Epsilon+Video.+Photo+courtesy+of+news9.com
Students at University of Oklahoma Protesting Recent Racist Sigma Alpha Epsilon Video. Photo courtesy of news9.com

Students at University of Oklahoma Protesting Recent Racist Sigma Alpha Epsilon Video. Photo courtesy of news9.com

Students at University of Oklahoma Protesting Recent Racist Sigma Alpha Epsilon Video. Photo courtesy of news9.com

Jenelise Sutton, Reporter

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College searches-one of the many joys of being a high school Junior. When my parents told me to begin researching schools back in September, I compiled a long list of schools based on size, location, and programs. In concern to the student body, I mostly considered how stereotypically “artsy” or “preppy” each school seemed. Convinced that college is a place for open minds and new ideas, whether I would be embraced as a Jew at each college was the farthest thing from my mind.

When the Jewish fraternity AEPi at University of California, Davis was vandalized with swastikas in January, my parents came to me concerned. Apparently antisemitism and other forms of hate are common on even the most progressive campuses. Being safe identifying as Jewish was now a component in my college research, right up there with programs, location, and size. However, Jewish kids aren’t the only ones who should be concerned. On Sunday, a video of University of Oklahoma students from the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon singing threatening racial slurs surfaced. The racist chant is allegedly taught as part of the organization’s tradition, and these incidents are only the most recent.

University of California, Davis' AEPi fraternity chapter vandalized with swastikas. Photo courtesy of StandWithUs.com

University of California, Davis’ AEPi fraternity chapter vandalized with swastikas. Photo courtesy of StandWithUs.com

In late 2013, three white roommates at San Jose State University were charged with a misdemeanor hate crime after calling their black roommate derogatory names such as “three-fifths” and fastening a bicycle lock around his neck. When I learned swastikas and pictures of Adolf Hitler were later found in the dormitory room, this seemed like a parallel to the increase in antisemitic campus incidents that have my parents so worried. Last year, thousands of Jewish students across the country received fake “eviction notices” from various student-led organizations, while a Jewish girl at University of California, Berkeley, was ran over with a shopping cart for holding an “Israel Wants Peace” sign.

Unfortunately, the issue goes beyond singular incidents and demographics. University of California, Los Angeles’ Higher Education Research Institute revealed that 1 in 5 African American students and almost 1 in 3 Latino students report some level of exclusion during their college experience. These numbers were reported from “high-diversity” environments; the statistics from low-diversity campuses are even more severe. At such colleges, over 60% of minority students report being the target of hateful verbal comments, and 32% report experiencing discrimination in visual form.

Hostile learning environments can impede a student’s education and make them more likely to transfer from a college that was once their dream school. Black Student Union sponsor Shari Dyan Terry explains, “If a person does not feel accepted, then they are going to go where they are actually going to feel like they are part of a unit. People like to go to where they actually have people who look like them or have thoughts like them.”

In 2013, Virginia became the second state to pass a bill affirming state-funded college clubs can deny a student based on their sexual orientation, religion, or personal beliefs. This enactment may maintain the ignorance and self- segregation among students on college campuses that is already seen in the halls of public and private high schools.

“We should accept anybody, any race, creed, or color. If we’re saying ‘oh, you’re a certain so-and-so, I can’t take you in’ again, [my personal opinion is] we’re pushing each other farther back behind the eight ball. If we’re trying to unite, closing the door on people isn’t helping at all. If we’re trying to build a community here, we shouldn’t be secluding anybody,” Terry said on the subject. “I guess that’s the state of Virginia.”

In the same way college hate perpetrators will carry their attitudes with them after graduation, students’ experiences in high school set up the morality and character they take with them into college. Throughout these four years, teenagers observe and learn the way their friend groups, teachers, and parents treat others. Whether that is judgement or acceptance, students often enter college without a strong moral compass of their own, making them susceptible to new hateful attitudes and prejudices they may encounter. Encouraging dialogue on such issues now could be the first step in ending tolerance towards hatred in the next generation.

“Sometimes students do things because they don’t know, or they don’t have a voice, which might not be the smartest thing. But if we talk it through, like with bullying…it’ll make things better…In the process of doing that, we can unite a little bit so it’s changing the culture [of West Potomac] and making us the World’s Greatest High School.”

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The student voice of West Potomac High School
School Pride and Prejudice: Hatred on College Campuses