It was a quiet evening in fall 2012 on the SMU campus. Carrying his black tote bag, junior Sammy Partida was strolling down Bishop Boulevard around 10 p.m. to visit his friend at Morrison McGinnis residence hall. As he entered the south quad, a small group of white students crossed his path, he said.
Partida continued walking, when then one of the men turned and yelled, ‘Yo fag! Hey fag! Fag.’ Partida thought the men were chatting among themselves, “thinking they’re funny.” He assumed they were not talking to him so he shrugged his shoulders and kept walking.
About to enter the McGinnis doors and walk up the stairs, Partida again heard the students screaming, ‘Jack! Yo Jack! You fucking slut! Hey faggot!’ Baffled by hearing the name “Jack,” Partida ignored the yells because he thought the men were addressing someone else.
It was then Partida realized the men were, in fact, yelling at him when one of them pointed toward him and shouted,‘Yeah you walk up those stairs, fag!’ Feeling harassed and helpless, Partida took a deep breath and started climbing.
Later that night he shared what had happened with a friend and reported the incident to the SMU police. The next day, he discussed the incident with another friend and told her he couldn’t understand why those men were calling him Jack. His friend, connecting the dots, said the men had probably misidentified him as another SMU student named Jack, who also carries a tote bag similar to the one Partida carried that night.
But Partida is not the only victim of a hate-motivated incident on campus. SMU Police Department issued a crime alert on Sept. 7 of this year saying a student’s property was vandalized in his dorm, and that it was investigating the incident “as criminal mischief and as a possible hate crime based on racial bias.”
In its 2012 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, SMU Police Department classified the following criminal offenses as hate crimes, provided they were motivated by bias of race, gender, religions, sexual orientation, ethnicity, national origin, disability and gender identity:
Classification of hate crimes also include larceny and theft, simple assault, and intimidation or destruction, damage, vandalism, criminal mischief if it can be proved they were motivated by hate or bias.
Jim Walters, assistant chief of police for SMU Police Department, said if they have information that the crime was motivated by prejudice, hate or bias, then it is investigated “along the lines of a hate crime.”
The use of bigoted and prejudiced language in a skirmish, though, may not necessarily fit the criteria to classify it as a hate crime. And yet incidents where slurs are used are a common occurrence on campus, and can be very damaging, according to students interviewed for this story.
Elishah Ramos, a Hispanic student and a junior at SMU, said he was verbally attacked on a weekend night in spring 2013. He asked a male white student, a freshman at the time, to help him and his two female friends from different racial background get inside McElvaney Hall.
Ramos admitted he called the student “blondie” to which he said the student replied: ‘Fuck you. You fucking Mexican! I ain’t no spic!’ Ramos tried to report the incident to the dorm’s resident assistant but could not come up with a specific description of the student.
William Sinclaire Moore, an African American senior, said he had a similar experience about a year ago. He was with his two friends walking toward Hughes-Trigg Student Center from the Meadows School of the Arts building when a white truck stopped and white males inside the truck yelled, “Fuck you niggers!”
The perpetrators in these hate-motivated incidents have been white, which concerned all the victims. They blamed the white majority or, according to Partida, the “oppressing class,” for their painful experiences. But some white students say that lumping all whites together shows just as much bias.
William Nollmann, an SMU sophomore, said it is wrong to blame all white people for hate crimes on campus. Not all white people are insensitive like that.
“There is a silent majority and a loud minority within just any group,” Kevin Pekala, an SMU senior, said. He said people often associate such unfortunate incidents to the “silent majority” of students, when they are not to blame.
Partida, who filed a formal complaint, said he heard nothing from the university about his experience. He wondered why no crime alert was issued regarding his incident. He believes that no word or action from the university about such incidents means the university is “complicit in this violent climate.”
But Assistant Police Chief Walters said that crime alerts are not issued if the incidents are verbal “altercations between individuals.”
Incidents where epithets are used are tough to investigate, according to Assistant Provost Anthony Tillman. The student may assume he or she gave a detailed description of the event or people involved, but that information could still not be enough for police to take formal action. But that doesn’t mean nothing is being done.
Walters said reports about incidents involving hate speech are forwarded to Student Affairs and to Office of Access and Equity. And the campus police department accepts all reports that deal with bias, even if the incident doesn’t qualify as a crime.
“We will take that report, we will investigate it to determine if there’s a crime, and if there’s not, we’ll tell the person,” Walters said. “But we will not just drop it.”
He added that although SMU Police Department has limited resources and only about 30 officers to tend to the needs of a student body made of roughly 11,000 students, it is doing everything to keep the campus community safe.
Walters also encouraged students to call and ask about the status of their case if they do not hear back from the SMU police.
Ramos suggested the perpetrators should be called out on the spot and told that what they said was not okay. Rick Halperin, director of the Embrey Human Rights Program, encouraged victims to speak up and said minorities should not “suffer in silence.”
Students who experience bias-motivated incidents should report them to the Access and Equity Office, located in the Perkins Administration building. They can also report them to a member of The President’s Commission on the Status of Racial Minorities at SMU via phone or email. Following are some people on the Commission the students can contact:
Anthony Tillman Chair and Assistant Provost
Bruce Levy Co-Chair and Associate Professor, English, Dedman College
Rick Halperin Professor and Chair, Embry Human Rights Program, Dedman College
Rod Jackson Senior Associate Director of Undergraduate Admission and Director of Diversity Initiatives, Admissions Office
Creston Lynch Director, Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, Student Affairs
Yusra Jabeen is majoring in journalism and human rights at Southern Methodist University. She can be reached at email@example.com