Just about a year ago, a wave of hate swept over the Keene State College campus in the form of swastikas and flyers promoting a white supremacist group. On Oct. 1 of this year, KSC published the 2016 Campus Crime and Fire Safety Report, also known as the Clery Report. Because of the nebulous definitions in the Clery Report of what a hate crime constitutes, both swastika incidents were left out.
In a cabinet meeting held on Oct. 24, where KSC Interim President Dr. Melinda Treadwell brought in Professor of Psychology Dr. Larry Welkowitz, Dean of the Mason Library Celia Rabinowitz and Director of the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies Dr. Hank Knight, who had been part of conversations regarding the matter, the report was amended to include both incidents as reported hate crimes.
Last year’s incidents
The original 2016 Campus Crime and Fire Safety Report released on Oct. 1 reported 18 hate crimes on campus last year, compared with two in 2015 and three in 2014. However, Campus Safety sent an email to the campus community on Nov. 22, 2017 that stated, “Revisions have been made to hate crime statistics since the report’s original publication.”
Now including the two swastika incidences in the report, KSC’s hate crime statistics from last year jumped to 20.
On Nov. 21, 2016, the first swastika was discovered by a Resident Assistant (RA), in a third floor, Carle Hall bathroom. Less than one month later, on Dec. 3, 2016, another swastika was found scratched into a stall divider in the men’s bathroom of one of the Owl’s Nests buildings on campus, according to The Keene Sentinel.
Neither incident was classified as a hate crime in the 2016 Clery Report until the revision was made and amended to include “Two incidents of destruction/damage/vandalism of property characterized by religion bias, and occurring on-campus, in student housing facilities.”
Hate crime: Defined
Depending upon who’s asked, KSC officials define and classify hate crimes in different ways.
Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Dr. Kemal Atkins said it is not a campus definition. “One of the goals for Clery is that there’s uniform or standard reporting across [campuses], so when multiple audiences are looking at incidents that occur on campus, they need to have confidence that they’re using the same standard across higher education,” Atkins said.
According to the Director of Campus Safety and Compliance Jeff Maher, KSC abides by a federal definition of what constitutes a hate crime.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”
However, Assistant Director of Campus Safety and Chair of the Clery Compliance Committee at KSC Leonard Crossman said the college follows the definition put out by the Department of Education 2016 Handbook for Campus and Security Reporting.
The handbook stated hate crimes are, “Any of the above-mentioned offenses, and any incidents of Larceny-Theft, Simple Assault, Intimidation, or Destruction/Damage/Vandalism of Property that were motivated by bias.” The “above-mentioned offenses” included, “Criminal Offenses– Criminal Homicide, including Murder and Non-negligent Manslaughter, and Manslaughter by Negligence; Sexual Assault, including Rape, Fondling, Incest and Statutory Rape; Robbery; Aggravated Assault; Burglary; Motor Vehicle Theft; and Arson.”
As someone who has worked as a certified police officer and held other law enforcement roles, Crossman said it is challenging when the definition KSC goes by may not necessarily match state law or college policy definitions. “As far as the [Clery Compliance] Committee’s concerned, we put everything else aside, all the state laws, college policies, anything like that aside and we look solely at what the Department of Education tells us to report.”
Similarly, Atkins said the college follows the “very specific” definition set forth in the Clery guidelines, which matches the above definition from the Clery handbook. He said not all crimes are necessarily “Clery-reportable.”
The hate crime definition set forth in the 2016 KSC Annual Clery Report is different, however. It stated, “A Hate Crime is a criminal offense in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim (or in the case of a property crime, the property that is the object of the crime), because of the actual or perceived race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation of any person (Uniform Crime Reporting).”
Senior Director of Programs at the Clery Center, a nonprofit training organization for Clery, Laura Egan said hate crimes are one of the more difficult crimes to clssify. She said all hate crimes must meet the FBI’s definition, meaning there must be evidence of bias on the part of the perpetrator.
Ultimately, Treadwell said there is an apparent need for our campus to be clearer in our language.
“There are things that we know are offensive speech, hurtful speech, they’re harmful speech and then there are federal hate crimes,” Treadwell explained. “I think we need to define for Keene State, what is social justice for us, what is hate and what is the kindness that we want to embody? So what are the values that we’re going to hold, and then within those definitions, how do we have those conversations?”
Why not reported?
In terms of why both swastika incidents were not originally reported, Crossman said, “Upon our evaluation of the law and the facts and circumstances, it didn’t line up.”
Atkins explained when re-considering additional information after the fact, such as the “environment on campus at the time…it allowed [them] to be reportable.”
When analyzing the national conversation after the election and the “tone and tenor of people reporting that they hadn’t been feeling safe during that time period in particular…the impact may have actually been a little bit more significant than it may have been otherwise,” Atkins explained.
According to Treadwell though, KSC classified a number of crimes as hate crimes that likely would not have been classified as such on competitor campuses, such as Plymouth State University (PSU) and the University of New Hampshire (UNH). While KSC reported 20 hate crimes in 2016, PSU reported zero and UNH reported just three.
“I don’t buy that there’s nothing happening on those campuses,” Treadwell said. “We’re not rife with hate crimes… we’re not different than those other campuses, but we’re being a lot more transparent about the challenging dialogue and the things that are happening that we’re not going to tolerate.”
Treadwell said as a campus, KSC has actually “over-reported” and “narrowly interpreted” some of these instances.
“…we’re going beyond the federal law in some cases,” Treadwell explained. “We want people to be reporting these situations, we want to have open dialogue about the climate on the campus, so that’s all good work.”
Senior Director of Programs at the Clery Center Egan said campuses can actually be found out of complaince for both over and under reporting. “You want to be really accurate about that number,” she said.
The 2016 Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting provides examples of hate crime scenarios, and one states: “Several students call the campus security office to report swastikas spray painted on the walls in a hallway of an on-campus student housing facility. Campus security personnel investigate but cannot find conclusive evidence that the markings were bias-motivated. Do not include this incident as a Hate Crime in your Clery Act statistics.”
However, when considering the context of when the incidents emerged at KSC, around the same time leafleting was occurring in the library, Treadwell chose to amend and include them in the report.
Around the same time the swastika incidents occurred, just after the end of the 2016 presidential election, employees of the Mason Library were discovering flyers promoting a white supremacist group in library books, specifically in sections where African American and Holocaust history books were being housed.
Dean of the Mason Library Rabinowitz said as the series of events were unfolding in, what was now, multiple places on campus, those who worked in the library every day were not only feeling uncomfortable, but worried about the impact one of the flyers could have on anybody who were to find them.
“I think it helped create a more complete picture of what the environment felt like on campus, at least for some folks,” Rabinowitz said. “I think that helped contribute to feeling uncomfortable.”
KSC senior and student trustee Adam Geddis said, “While [the hate crimes] weren’t in the first one, I think that we should be classifying these kinds of things just because they are crimes and we should be putting a light to any things that could be considered crimes on campus. While it’s not great that these things are happening on campus and it’s not great that we’re putting a light up to them, we need to know what’s going on on campus so that we can address those issues.”
Treadwell said when you link the incidences in the library with those that were also occurring in residence halls on campus, fear was at the forefront. “In the context and in the sense that [the swastika incidents] did bring fear, and it was in the same time period of leafleting [in the library], I believe that if we link the things together, I can imagine that people were very fearful,” which is why Treadwell chose to amend the report.
When asked why he wanted to originally omit the incidents from the report, Director of Campus Safety and Compliance Maher said, “It’s not a matter of wanting to or not wanting to, so I do want to clarify that.” However, he said the “greater context of how these acts occurred and when these occurred and the timing that they occurred” deemed them appropriate to be included in an amended version of the report.
Reporting in the future
In response to these incidents last year, Associate Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Dottie Morris said KSC held two Teach-In events, as well as two campus community meetings. “We kind of went directly at it and said this is unacceptable,” Morris said.
Although Rabinowitz said some of these conversations surrounding the amending process could have happened a couple weeks ago, she feels as though the situation was handled correctly and respectfully.
In the future, she said we should be asking ourselves, as students, faculty, staff and administrators, how accurate the numbers are and how often people feel as if they know what the definition of these actions are. “This is a great opportunity for us as a campus and particularly the people who are responsible, and that’s really what comes out of Dr. Atkins and Jeff Maher’s office, to decide how to apply those definitions to make sure everybody understands,” Rabinowitz said.
Additionally, she said it is also a great opportunity for the campus to think about responses to actions that may not be reported in Clery, but are also recognized as hateful, intimidating or making others feel vulnerable.
Psychology major Geddis said, “I hope that we’re classifying things in a way that doesn’t underreport things but makes sure that serious crimes aren’t overshadowed by such a large number.”
In terms of how incidents such as these will be classified in the future, Maher said it differs depending on the factors associated with the crime. “We don’t want to be in a position where we have to amend published reports. That’s not a position I would like Campus Safety to be in, but these are really case-by-case matters and each one is different and each one requires thoughtful analysis, so it’s difficult for me to say what’s going to happen in the future except to say that we will continue to seek the advice of experts in this field when assessing whether or not something should constitute a Clery reportable crime,” Maher said.
In working with the current administration at KSC, Treadwell emphasized the importance of calling hard questions and being willing to hold the tension during hard conversations. “I just know the way I work is that we’re going to be transparent about it, we’re going to reach a decision and that’s it and we’re going to move forward. So I made the call on this one that I think is right for the community, even if it makes us look like we’re filled with lots of things that other campuses aren’t reporting, I’m willing to take that because I think it’s the more transparent way for us to be right now,” Treadwell said.
The 2016 Annual Campus Crime and Fire Safety Report can be accessed on the KSC website.
The Clery Center was contacted for an interview but did not respond in time for comment.
Jessica Ricard can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org