On the morning of Monday, Sept. 30, the Gustavus community received an email that weighed heavily on students, faculty, and staff alike; a member of the Gustavus community had been targeted by a hate crime. Ending her address with a call to action, Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students JoNes VanHecke wrote, “Reclaim your community by stepping forward and sharing what you know.”
Over Homecoming weekend, an unknown individual spray-painted a racial slur, accompanied by a Gustavus student’s name, on the campus sidewalk. This act has been labeled a hate crime under its federal definition and is currently under investigation by the Campus Safety Office and St. Peter Police Department.
“It takes a lot to classify something as an actual hate crime,” Director of Campus Safety Carol Brewer said. “It’s important that we figure out what happened and address it.”
According to Brewer, figuring out the intent of the perpetrator is one of the main factors in distinguishing a formal hate crime from a bias incident. A crime committed with hostile intent directed at a protected group, such as one based on religion, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity, is classified as a hate crime.
“At this time, we are saying this instance meets the federal definition. Some of that is based on intention of the person that committed the act and so it’s hard to figure out what their intention was if you don’t know who it was. Later, once we find out more information, we may categorize it differently, but for now, it is a hate crime,” Brewer said.
Due to the highly specific nature of a hate crime, bias incidents are far more common. A bias incident references a protected group but is not explicitly directed towards members of the group. Although it is
not a formal classifier for crime, many college campuses, including Gustavus, use the term bias incident to define acts that are used to address issues of concern, but don’t meet the high threshold of a hate crime.
VanHecke believes that hate crimes like these threaten the academic community at Gustavus by creating a hostile environment that hinders honest, intellectual expression.
“This degrades our community,” VanHecke said. “In terms of what’s acceptable in a community of scholars, it’s unacceptable.”
In light of the emotions, concerns, and questions that have arisen from the incident, the Diversity Center is cooperating with other offices and departments to host a community forum next week. Assistant Director of Multicultural Programs Glen Lloyd said the program’s goal is to bring together the entire Gustavus community to engage in an honest, meaningful conversation centered around the question, “Who are we at Gustavus?”
“We want to think about how our community can be committed to valuing one another,” Lloyd said.
Not only does the event aim to elicit direct conversation between individuals and groups across campus, but also heal the rift in the community created by the hate crime.
“We want to assist the grieving process and the healing process,” Lloyd said.
Details about the event will be released to students, faculty, and staff via email once the time and location have been decided. Information will also be available through the Diversity Center’s Facebook and Twitter.
The Diversity Leadership Council has also decided to issue a statement of consideration for the Gustavus community, which can be found at the Diversity Center website and social media outlets as well.
Next steps for Brewer as the investigation of the incident continues will include information collection, follow-up on current leads, and keeping her door open to anyone who has anything to say about this incident.
“I think you’re supporting that viewpoint in allowing that behavior to happen. It’s sad that that is reflective on the community in general. I believe most students don’t agree with that use of hate,” Brewer said.
VanHecke appeals to the conscience of students who have knowledge of the crime.
“I believe in my heart that students know who did this,” VanHecke said.
If you have any information about this incident, please contact Director of Campus Safety, Carol Brewer, at x8809.