The Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE) held a “collaborative discussion” on Nov. 3 to discuss the recent hate crime that was reported at FSU, according to Sean Huddleston, chief diversity and inclusion officer.
The discussion also addressed other bias incidents on campus and aimed to educate participants on ways to make the University a more inclusive environment.
Members of the Bias Education and Response Team (BERT) were present at the forum as well as club members from M.I.S.S., Brother 2 Brother (B2B), Student Leaders in Diversity (SLID) and SGA.
Huddleston introduced BERT as an education platform to understand how often bias incidents occur and how often they “rise to the hate crime level.”
Huddleston said there have been three bias incidents since the beginning of the academic year. One of those reported incidents was with a student who felt an interaction with an FSUPD officer was racially motivated and involved “racial profiling.”
According to Huddleston, the student involved is “working through” the incident with the officer and BERT.
The second incident discussed was the vandalism, in May Hall which subsequently was labeled a hate crime due to the depiction of the swastika and the words “white power” being near to the image, said Huddleston.
This incident was not reported to BERT, but the team has been involved in the process of the investigation, he said. The investigation is ongoing and “we hope to get some information and … that someone will come forward,” he added.
Students were glad the University responded so quickly to the hate crime. One student said, “There are so many places that genuinely don’t care because they want to protect their image.”
Another student said the email started a discussion among his friends because of the swift response of the University.
Senior Teo Barbalho reported the third bias incident which occurred in Whittemore Library. He said, “I was [in the library] … doing homework. One of my friends who was with me doing homework went to the bathroom. … And when he came back, you could see in his face he was angry. But I didn’t know why. He said, ‘I was in the bathroom and right there written on the wall said ‘black lies matter.’’”
Barbalho said he and his friend were both “angry and hurt,” and afterward, Barbalho filled out a bias incident report with the student. Huddleston texted Barbalho a half hour later to tell him that his report had been seen.
FSUPD followed up with Barbalho the next day and the investigation into this incident is ongoing, Barbalho said.
Huddleston shared with the group how “important it is to shine a light on incidents like this” because bias incidents and hate crimes are “wildly” underreported.
He added, “Hate speech is protected under the law. There is no law that says people cannot say or spew hate speech but … the best response to hate speech is more speech.”
According to Huddleston, there have been three incidents involving swastikas and “when people think about the swastika, normally they think it is something that is used against Jewish people … and the truth of the matter is it has far greater implications than Jewish people.”
The swastika has been used to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities. It was “classified as one of the most hateful symbols on the planet,” he said.
David Baldwin, associate dean of students, the University has many places across campus where students can go to get support.
Baldwin said among many resources on campus to help students “process” a bias incident, the CIE, run by Chon’tel Washington, is “always available.”
He suggested students visit the counseling center if they are interested in a confidential conversation about a bias incident that may have occurred.
He also recommended the Residence Life staff and Kim Dexter, director of equal opportunity, Title IX and ADA Compliance.
Baldwin recommended students speak to Dexter if they have an incident that involves faculty and staff.
Huddleston said, “Last year we had a student who had concerns about a faculty member. We met with that person … and the dean of that department got involved in the resolution of that incident.”
Baldwin added, “You shouldn’t have to carry that by yourself and let it fester and get more angry or … more sad about what occurred. You don’t have to carry that burden alone.”
He said these offices want to help students get “some kind of closure,” if possible, after an incident.
When asked to differentiate between a hate crime and a bias incident, Student Trustee Karl Bryan said, “A bias incident would be, ‘I hate black people,’ but a hate crime would be punching someone in the face because they are black.”
Huddleston said “Typically, [targets of hate crimes] are the marginalized groups.”
Huddleston said an investigation is sometimes necessary to determine how an incident is classified.
Other times, he added, such as the graffiti in May Hall, the incident will be “immediately classified as a hate crime.”
Dexter said it is not up to students to differentiate between a bias incident or a hate crime, but “we want you to recognize the problematic behavior. … If there’s been an incident and you don’t necessarily know if it’s bias motivated, report it.”
Dexter reminded students not to accept micro-aggressions in their daily lives even if what is being said is shrugged off as a “joke.”
She said people “don’t see how significant” a racial epithet can be if it’s not being shouted in anger and aggression.
Biased language and actions should be addressed to make “some sort of forward progress. … We can do little things to take steps in the right direction,” she said.
Huddleston said it can be difficult to intervene in a discussion when a personal relationship is established with the person who has said something offensive.
He shared a recent personal experience. “The conversation turned to politics. This person had a very strong feeling about African Americans who are supporting one of the candidates. And what he said to me was, he said, ‘Those people, they’re selling your people out. I just want to tell them, ‘Since you want to act that way, why don’t you go back to the plantation?’’ And in that moment, someone I know on a regular basis, how should I respond?”
One student said, “I would have them repeat themselves a couple times, and during that time I would think about it and then we could have a conversation.”
SGA president Ezequiel De Leon suggested an open discussion to talk about the problematic behavior and “defuse” the situation.
Huddleston said he wanted to add “a little levity” to the conversation, because of the personal relationship but he needed to have the “crucial conversation … to bring to attention the seriousness of his comment.”
While Dexter urged forum attendees to address micro-aggressions – like racial epithets – as soon as possible, she reminded everyone that “sometimes it’s not safe to address it at all and that’s OK. … We can encourage reporting.”
Junior Amari Veale shared tips on how to hold a productive conversation with someone regarding a bias incident.
She said, “Step one – think before you act. … Two – don’t drop it. … If you let it go, it’s consenting to the act. Three – put yourself in their shoes … and educate them.”
She added, “The cure to ignorance is education. Make sure you’re able to talk to that person in a way that educates them.”