Hate Graffiti Opportunity
to Promote Tolerance
November 8, 1999
rom scooping up Ally buttons like Halloween candy to including new language in the restructured Student Conduct Code, administrators, faculty, staff and students last week moved swiftly to expand efforts to make the Storrs campus a more tolerant and understanding community.
The outpouring of support that followed several incidents involving anti-gay and anti-Semitic graffiti and vandalism was swift and pointed. Dozens of comments flashed across the UCForum, vilifying the hate-mongers who spread graffiti in chalk, paint and on paper that chastised and frightened UConn's gay and Jewish communities. Hundreds of people picked up and wore Ally buttons - indicating friendship and support for gay people - that were distributed by the Rainbow Center and the Bi-sexual, Gay and Lesbian Association.
Nearly 200 people turned out for a town meeting November 2, offering words of support and suggesting ways to promote tolerance and civility at UConn. And police, representatives of the gay community, and other officials began discussing options for expanding diversity training across the University.
President Philip E. Austin stated on October 27 that the University would not tolerate such actions. Wednesday, in the aftermath of the town meeting, Austin reiterated his points.
"This type of boorish behavior is not and will not be tolerated in our community. Vandalism is not free speech: it is cowardly, childish behavior, and those who would perpetrate such acts must know there will be consequences stemming from their actions, once they are found," Austin said.
"Let me make clear, again, that I believe a crime of hate directed against any one group on our campus is a crime against every member of the UConn community. The University is a lively, exciting center of ideas and each and every one of us has the right to enjoy and participate in this community's life without fear," he added.
Austin also spoke during a November 3 meeting of the Undergraduate Student Government, which later allocated money to purchase and distribute another 2,000 of the rainbow-colored Ally buttons, supplementing the 1,000 buttons already picked up at the Rainbow Center during the week after the incident.
"The University community's response to these incidents has been quite heartening," Martha Nelson, director of the Rainbow Center, said last Wednesday. "The show of support - from people bringing cookies to the center, to ads run in the Daily Campus by the UConn administration and the local clergy, and just a lot of people waiting to bring whatever resources they have to bear on finding solutions - has been wonderful.
"There has been a definite sense of outrage and, coupled with that, a tenacious hope that this community can adjust and change," she continued. Nelson added that, despite the vandalism and concerns that UConn is an unfriendly place for gay people, UConn actually is a leader on several fronts related to gays.
"Not all colleges have funded a full-time staff for gay, lesbian, and transgender issues; only 10 other states have adopted a gay civil rights bill; and it is very unusual for a University's harassment policy to include sexual orientation as a prohibited form of harassment," she said.
Plans to better define "hate crimes" and to list sanctions against people who perpetrate hate crimes, were already being considered for inclusion in the Student Conduct Code, which had been undergoing a revision for a year when the incidents occurred.
Plans to review and update the University's General Education Requirements also had been made before the recent spate of vandalism. But, in light of the incidents, that discussion now will include consideration of a requirement that all students must take a course or courses that discuss multicultural issues and tolerance, Fred Maryanski, interim chancellor, said Wednesday.
Other actions either under way or being considered include:
"We know we have a crisis," said Nelson, director of the Rainbow Center. "But we have to remember we have an opportunity too - an opportunity to grow as a community."