University of Connecticut students are reporting more bias-related incidents since the university created a protocol for reporting and responding to these incidents two years ago.
A bias-related incident is one that does not technically qualify as a crime but expresses hateful sentiments for a particular group or person.
“An increase in reporting doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in the incidents, it just means we’re doing a better job of capturing the information,” UConn Police Department Chief Hans Rhynhart said.
There have been several bias-related incidents on campus, including the appearance of a swastika and a note reading “All chinks should be raped” on a bulletin board in Alumni Residence Halls last semester.
Rhynhart said that a protocol for reporting bias-related incidents was developed as a collaborative effort between UCPD, UConn’s Department of Student Affairs and Residential Life to address the causes of bias-related incidents in 2015.
“We developed a bias incident response protocol so that we could address the harm that students and communities experience due to bias,” Christine Wilson, assistant vice president for Student Affairs and director of Student Activities, said.
Rhynhart said the protocol allows the departments to share information they would need.
UConn’s Division of Student Affairs received a regional award for equity, diversity and inclusion in November from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.
“The award acknowledges an individual, member institution or program that embraces the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to create learning environments that are enriched with diverse views and people,” the description of the award said.
Statistics collected by the FBI indicate that there was one racially-motivated hate crime committed at UConn in 2015.
“A hate crime is a crime that occurs that is motivated by someone’s real or perceived race, gender, sexual identification,” Rhynhart said.
Rhynhart said that when his department is called to respond to a possible hate crime, they stabilize the scene to remove any hateful words or images and then determine if a crime was committed.
“We need to make the assessment of whether it’s a crime or not, and if it’s a crime, what’s our best course of action moving forward investigating that crime,” Rhynhart said.
“It does get somewhat complicated because of the words or actions that are used,” Rhynhart said.
Rhynhart said that the appearance of hateful graffiti on the rocks around campus do not qualify as hate crimes because the rocks are intended to be used an outlet for students to express themselves.
“That rock is put there for people to have freedom of expression,” Rhynhart said, “So while it’s not classified as a crime, it’s something that’s highly offensive to many people on campus.”
The protocol says that UConn supports students’ right to free speech, but hate speech is not protected by this right.
“(UConn) values the freedom all members of our community have to express their opinions,” the protocol says, “Hate speech and actions are not tolerated at the University of Connecticut and individuals who are victims of hate speech or actions are protected through the Student Code.”
Rhynhart said that the protocol UConn has in place to deal with bias-related incidents helps ensure they do not go unattended just because they do not qualify as a crime.
“What we want to make sure we do is not let the incidents that are bias incidents not get the same attention as a hate crime would garner from the university,” Rhynhart said.
Wilson said that the university seeks to provide individualized support to those affected by bias-related incidents and hate crimes, often working with the cultural centers on campus.
“Each incident, victim, community, is different, so each requires different and specialized support and education,” Wilson said.
A bias-related incident may lead to educational programs as well as support programs for the victims.
“Appropriate staff and faculty will work with students to plan timely, educational opportunities that are reflective of diverse learning styles, and address relevant issues from multiple perspectives,” the protocol says.
Wilson said that the university works with students affected by bias-related incidents, regardless of the lack of legal implications.
“Whether or not any given bias incident is a violation of the law or Code, we still work to support folks and communities that are harmed,” Wilson said.