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#OneGrinnell: Community rallies against hate crimes

On Wednesday, Dec. 4, nearly 200 students, staff, faculty and Grinnell community members gathered on the JRC patio to participate in a #OneGrinnell Solidarity Rally to share their experiences with and express their resistance against bias-motivated incidents in the Grinnell community.

This protest comes following a series of similar incidents, in which individuals in passing vehicles have yelled insults and slurs at members of the College community that specifically target them based on their perceived race or sexual orientation.

Bias-motivated incidents are certainly not unprecedented on the Grinnell campus. Dean of Students Travis Greene estimated that such drive-by harassment incidents alone have occurred as frequently as once a semester prior to this year. In the past, other forms of bias-motivated offense such as graffiti and hate mail have occurred, as well. While the identity of the perpetrators in these most recent incidents is largely unknown—they have generally been described as in their late teens or early 20s—in the past, both members of the College community and outsiders have been implicated in these issues.

While the rally was catalyzed by the recent spate of incidents, it aimed to address the issue of hate crimes as a whole.

“We got tired of bias-motivated incidents, we got tired of

cars driving by, we got tired of our own peers causing oppression to one another, when we should come at it together as a family,” said Jason Camey ’16, who, alongside Eric Brito ’16, spearheaded the effort to organize the rally.

Operating according to the College’s Hate Crimes and Bias-Motivated Incident Policy, the Grinnell staff has immediately reached out to those individuals who were targeted in the incidents this semester, making sure they had the support and resources they needed in the aftermath of an incident. While the Policy includes guidelines for the possibility of notifying the community at large following an incident, none of those individuals targeted deemed such a measure to be necessary.

According to Director of Intercultural Strategic Analysis and Engagement Narren Brown, members of the Multicultural Leadership Council (MLC), which he chairs, had expressed frustration with the resulting lack of a public response on the part of the College.

In the wake of such dialogue, Brown reached out to student leaders about the possibility of organizing a more deliberate response, with Camey and Brito volunteering to take the helm of the planning effort.

Participants in the rally represented all elements of the greater Grinnell community. Both Grinnell Police Chief Dennis Reilly and Mayor Gordon Canfield gave speeches, as well as numerous College students, including victims of the bias-motivated incidents and Student Government Association President Thomas Neil ’14.

Neil, who, along with other members of SGA, provided support to the event organizers throughout the planning process, pointed out the importance of a rally that included members of the entire Grinnell community.

“I really appreciated what the organizers did. They didn’t turn this into an ‘us versus them’ sort of situation. There’s a reason the mayor was there, there’s a reason the police chief was there and there’s a reason that middle schoolers were there. Because it’s a bigger thing,” Neil said. “And no one knows exactly who it is, and I don’t think that they’re trying to point fingers at the community. I think they’re trying to say that in this community, which extends beyond Grinnell’s campus’ borders … it’s not accepted, period.”

According to Reilly, reporting of these incidents has frequently been delayed and, when it has occurred, descriptions have been fairly minimal. However, based on the information police do have, these incidents are not believed to be traceable back to a single perpetrator.

Reilly stressed how important immediate reporting and detailed descriptions will be in the successful apprehension and, ultimately, prosecution of those perpetrating these acts of harassment.

“While we don’t want anyone putting themselves in harm’s way to obtain information on a vehicle, if the victim is able to look at nothing else other than the license plate of the vehicle and write [it] down or type [it] in on their phone … I mean, that’s what we’re looking for,” he said.

Such incidents, while not considered a hate crime under the Iowa Code, would constitute a harrassment simple misdemeanor, resulting in a fine if an individual was convicted.

In addition to informing the public about ways they can help law enforcement in apprehending offenders, Grinnell police are also stepping up patrols in the campus areas—notably on 8th Avenue between Park and East Streets—where these incidents have frequently been occurring.

“I think a combination of educating the public as to what is going on, reporting it as it takes place, increased presence in the area—I think that together is going to be beneficial to either catching and dealing with the people that are doing this or just mak[ing] it uncomfortable enough where they’ll stop it,” Reilly said.

After the 4 p.m. rally, a panel discussion featuring Brown, Greene, Director of Security Steve Briscoe and Kim McKee, Sociology took place at 7 p.m. in ARH 302.

The topics ranged from the College’s Hate Crimes and Bias-Motivated Incidents Policy to participants’ own experiences with bias-motivated harassment, both in Grinnell and elsewhere. Much of the conversation focused on strategies to translate the momentum and energy gained through the #OneGrinnell rally to continued activities promoting tolerance and understanding of all types of difference.

“The theme that I took away from the panel is, ‘Enough of the talking. How do we keep this momentum going?’” Greene said. “So, I think as a community going forward, I would share that sentiment. How do we put action into these ideas, these feelings, for some this righteous anger—and understandably so?”

Greene brought up a number of channels this energy could take. For policy changes, he encouraged students to come to the open monthly meetings of the Committee on Student Life—the next meeting is next Tuesday, Dec. 10 at noon in JRC 224B.

He also mentioned the possibility that future iterations of the town hall meetings that have been happening this semester might specifically address the campus climate surrounding these issues of bias.

Brown, for his part, brought up a planned new program by the Office of Intercultural Engagement and Leadership that would see twice-monthly conversations designed to “speak to the intersectionality that happens between class, sexism, racism, gender, you name it,” which would be hosted by members of all campus bodies—students, faculty and staff. He also mentioned that the MLC is currently discussing further plans for continued action.

For Camey, who volunteers at Fairview Elementary, as well as the Grinnell Athletic & Recreation Center, where he coaches soccer, an essential element of this process will be working to bridge the gap between the the College and the rest of the town.

“A lot of Grinnell College students don’t go out into the community as much. And there’s this lack of communication between the College and the community. … For this rally, I wanted to include the community, I wanted to reach out to the people in town,” Camey said. “ … That was very emotional, very moving for me, to see that even the community supports us, and we should be doing the same thing.”

Briona Butler ‘15 talks about her experience as a victim of drive-by harassment; Eric Brito ’16, one of the rally’s organizers, looks on. Photo by John Brady.
Briona Butler ‘15 talks about her experience as a victim of drive-by harassment; Eric Brito ’16, one of the rally’s organizers, looks on. Photo by John Brady.

 

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    TanyaDec 6, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    Glad you feel like it was a good community response. Who has your back like this when your on the street in LA or Boston and someone calls you a vulgar name? Who organizes your #OneLA then? Name-calling is never acceptable, but a bit self-centered to make a mountain out of a molehill. And before you go all knee-jerk reactionary, I’m Grinnell ’74 and an early member of CBS. I’m just telling you that Grinnell is enough a bubble without you all building the bubble bigger. Save your big efforts for real harassing. Words are just words. They’ll never hurt you. Part of what is wrong with this country now is that we get all hot and bothered over words. So chill no matter the “name” you get called.

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