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CRS Responds to Bias Incidents and Hate Crimes at Colleges and Universities

A group of diverse college students walking on a college campus
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As college and university students return to classes this fall, communities across the nation remain concerned about the potential for bias incidents or hate crimes on their campuses. More than 314 hate crime incidents were reported on college and university campuses in 2018, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hate Crime Statistics Report published in 2019. And even though many students are attending classes virtually, they are still subject to cyberbullying, online bias incidents, and hate crimes.

The United States Department of Justice Community Relations Service (CRS) supports campus-related community groups as they work to prevent and respond to bias incidents and hate crimes on campuses and in cities throughout the country. This year, CRS is working in person as well as virtually to provide facilitation, mediation, training, and consultation services to university and college communities facing tensions and conflicts.

CRS programs offer opportunities for communities to engage in discussions and information sharing on methods to combat and respond to hate crimes on campus. For example, in the spring of 2020, Asian and Pacific Islander (API) student groups at a California university reported a series of anti-Asian bias-related incidents, including having door locks changed, signs telling them they were not welcome in apartments, and racial slurs directed at them. Local API community leaders contacted CRS with concerns about the incidents’ potential impacts on public safety and the educational mission of the school. CRS facilitated a virtual dialogue and planning session with local API leaders and community members to develop a virtual Hate Crimes forum to address these concerns. The forum included a panel on government agency programs and responses to hate and bias incidents and concerns related to workplace discrimination, community safety, and bullying both in classrooms and online. Participants included representatives from the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and U.S. Department of Education. Nearly 500 people attended the virtual event which was held on July 21, 2020. The community formed a working group to conduct a follow-up forum focused on recommendations for resilience and responses to hate and bias incidents directed towards API faith and community groups. CRS is assisting the working group to finalize the forum.

CRS facilitated dialogues can also help to reduce tensions on campus by giving each group a voice and guiding them to identify actions to address their concerns. This summer, a local civil rights organization contacted CRS after Black student organizations at a Midwestern university raised concerns about their safety on campus following a perceived hate incident. The student organizations, in partnership with their alumni chapters, sent a letter calling for the university president to rescind the admission of a matriculating student who posted a video on social media that appeared to mock the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody on May 25, 2020. The letter also identified seven additional demands to ensure Black student safety on campus. The local civil rights organization contacted CRS to help ease racial tensions between students and the university and address concerns about potential bias incidents on campus.

Due to social distancing measures, CRS met virtually with Black students, Black alumni, and university leadership to hear their concerns. CRS facilitated a virtual dialogue designed to address the concerns of students, university leadership, alumni, and local civil rights organizations. CRS helped ensure that each group had its voice heard, facilitated the groups as they worked to develop specific solutions to their concerns, and supported the creation of a plan of action for both students and the university.

Additionally, CRS provides services that help communities proactively address potential conflict before an incident occurs. For example, in November 2018, the deputy police chief of the Lone Star College (LSC) Police Department requested that CRS conduct its Engaging and Building Partnerships with Muslim and Sikh Americans training programs for campus police officers. LSC is a public community college system with nearly 100,000 students, with growing Muslim and Sikh student populations. The programs are designed to familiarize law enforcement, government officials, and civic and community leaders, with cultural aspects of the Muslim and Sikh American communities, including their beliefs, practices, and civil rights-related issues that impact the communities. The trainings also include templates for developing individual and agency outreach plans to help officers and police departments identify local leaders and specific engagement opportunities to strengthen their engagement with those community groups.

Throughout late 2018 and early 2019, CRS facilitated regular sessions with a planning group comprised of campus police officers and college officials. In April 2019, CRS conducted the trainings at the college’s LSC-University Park campus, for approximately 70 campus law enforcement officers from the greater Houston area. More than 90% of the participants agreed that the trainings, which are available both in-person and in virtual formats, would help them improve communication and collaboration with Sikh American and Muslim American communities.

"As a diverse school body in a very diverse major city, it is important to the Lone Star College Police Department to develop an understanding and appreciation for the various cultures within our 100,000-plus person college community. The Muslim and Sikh training classes were substantive and applicable to our work. They helped our staff develop a foundation for engaging with these communities and protecting them. These are first-rate trainings which any agency or community could use and should have."

Paul Willingham, Chief of Police, Lone Star College System

As “America’s Peacemaker,” CRS aims to enhance the ability of local communities to independently and collaboratively prevent and resolve future conflicts using problem solving, increased knowledge, and improved communication. CRS’s university and college programs and services include the following: facilitated dialogues, Bias Incidents and Hate Crimes forums, Protecting Places of Worship forums, Campus-Site Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (Campus-SPIRIT), Engaging and Building Relationships with Muslim and Sikh Communities, Engaging and Building Relationships with Transgender Communities, the Dialogue on Race program, Strengthening Police and Community Partnerships program, mediation, and consultation. For more information on how to bring one of these programs to a university or college community, in person or in a virtual format, please contact CRS at Established under Title X of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Matthew Shephard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, CRS works in all 50 states and U.S. territories supporting communities facing tensions and hate crimes based on actual or perceived race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or disability.

Updated April 6, 2023