On Feb. 10, a middle school student the northwest suburb Crystal Lake was reportedly called “Persian” by a fellow student before being savagely beaten. The attack left him with two broken collar bones.
During the week of Feb. 19, dozens of houses of worship in the far north suburbs of Waukegan and Gurnee were vandalized with painted red hateful messages. The same words were spray painted on the buildings — a phrase with an expletive to mock their faith with a smiley face beneath the offending words, Waukegan police said.
On March 19, Michael Tingling was walking with his daughter in Rogers Park when a white man punched Tingling, a black man, in the chest while shouting racial slurs, according to police reports. Tingling died shortly thereafter from heart complications worsened by the attack.
Congress’s official definition for hate crimes is a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”
While Loyola may take pride in its diversity, these hate crimes show the feeling is not held throughout the Chicago area. Director of the Department of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs Sadika Sulaiman Hara said ignorance of other cultures is the primary cause of these types of crimes.
“Hate crimes are often motivated by lack of exposure to issues and identities that a person who perpetrates the crime is less familiar with, and difference in perspectives and belief system,” Sulaiman Hara said.
Hara said hate crimes are often the result of “a person’s biases toward a specific population.”
The FBI reported in its 2012 hate crime statistics that 48.3 percent of crimes were the result of racial bias. This percentage was significantly greater than any other bias, with sexual-orientation bias being the second most frequent cause at 19.6 percent.
Hara said the high number of race-related hate crimes could be a result of “a person’s biases towards a specific population.”
“When the U.S. judicial system fails to hold individuals from racially privileged backgrounds accountable for their actions, this institutional message reinforces that harming individuals based on their racial background is OK,” Sulaiman Hara said.
While racial bias accounts for the majority of hate crimes according to FBI data, freshman Morgan Langereis said the other motivations for these crimes can’t be overlooked.
“I don’t think students today understand what all can be considered a hate crime. Any act that raises prejudice against another group or individual is a hate crime. These situations may vary but they still cause the same effects,” said the 19-year-old biochemistry major. “A victim believes that they are wrong for their beliefs and that they are in danger if they continue believing in them. No person should ever feel inferior because of their lifestyle.”
Langereis said her sister, a student at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, was a victim of a hate crime last semester.
“We aren’t part of a religious family and we have never been hateful towards other cultures and religions. But her suitemates believed that she wasn’t living correctly and duct taped a bible and a cross to her door and wrote that she needed to bring Jesus in her life and go to church. This may seem like a prank, but my sister felt attacked and didn’t know what she could have done to have provoked this,” she said.
Black World Studies professor Dr. Gerald Steenken said people form the negative associations that lead to hate crimes unconsciously from their environment.
“Our unconscious is constantly being educated by the media and by the adults around us to make certain assumptions about people that can be very negative, based on a very thin slice of information about them,” he said.
Steenken said people should educate themselves about diversity through quality relationships with people who are different from them.
“It’s a way of educating the gut, so the gut does not respond automatically in a negative way, but in a positive way. If not positive, at least neutral — at least curious, open, receptive, respectful,” Steenken said. “It’s a lifelong project. No one ever arrives at being completely open, fearless and receptive to those who are different.”
Sophomore psychology major Roshni Shah said it is important for college students to understand hate crimes and prejudice so they can help to prevent them.
Shah said that realizing the impact that derogatory labels have on people is an easy step students can take to counteract hate.
“Saying ‘the n-word’ or saying ‘retarded’ or ‘that’s so gay,’ you might not realize how offensive that could be, but it can be really hurtful to somebody,” the 20-year-old said.
Sulaiman Hara said people will need to “explore what identities they personally hold” and “stand as a collective to dismantle the inequities that exist in our society” in order to change.
“Cycles do not stop or change until people come together and rise to change the course of the system,” she said.