The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
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College enacts Hate Crime Reponse Protocol

Last Saturday night between 11 p.m. and 2:30 a.m., a room in Loose Hall was vandalized with threatening and homophobic messages spray-painted onto its wall.

The incident has been legally recognized as a hate crime, according to a press release from Grinnell Police Chief Jody Matherly. The college’s Hate Crime/Bias-Motivated Incident Response Protocol (HCRP) was activated when the incident was reported Saturday night. Students were notified that the HCRP was in effect by an all-campus email on Monday and were told that the incident had been determined to be a hate crime on Thursday afternoon.

SRC Rally
Katey Gager '11 hollers at passing vehicles holding a sign reading, "Self Gov is Love" along 8th Avenue in front of the JRC on Thursday morning during a rally responding to a recent hate crime on campus - Ben Brewer

The two students who lived in the vandalized room and their Student Advisor (SA) asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons.

One of the room’s residents—the primary target of the messages—identifies as queer and has previously been targeted in similar incidents. Her car was spray-painted with homophobic messages three times during finals week last spring and twice this year. On 10/10, posters outside her room were torn down, including one that read “safe space.” Her room was locked on that night.

The most recent incident occurred when the target and her roommate were at a Halloween party this past weekend and left their room unlocked—a common practice at Grinnell. The target’s roommate and SA discovered the vandalism.

“My roommate came back and found our room a disaster,” the target said. “Everything was a mess. There was a spray-painted slur on the wall and a threat.”

Dean on call Andrea Connor and the Residence Life Coordinator (RLC) on call Michael Hunt came immediately to provide support to the roommates while the Grinnell Police Department and Grinnell Campus Security investigated the crime scene.

Conner has since become the staff member designated to work with the roommates to coordinate a response. Conner, Acting Vice-President of Diversity and Achievement Kathleen Skerrett and Dean of Students Travis Greene have met with those directly affected by the hate crime, other students who feel unsafe because of it and student leaders in order to coordinate a response.

Leaders of the Stonewall Resource Center (SRC), the umbrella organization of student groups concerning queer rights, compiled a list of 18 proposed changes to college policies, which were printed and published on the online forum GrinnellPlans under the name “Concerned Students of Grinnell.” They also organized a rally independently from the administration to spread awareness of their proposed changes, condemn the hate crime and promote ideas of love and acceptance on campus.

“We are feeling increasingly less safe and accepted on this campus,” said SRC Programming Coordinator Ragnar Thorisson ’11. “We would like to see further institutional measures like [the HCRP].”

SRC Manager Nik Jameson ’11 believed a rally was needed to break the recurring trend of bias-motivated incidents (BMIs) at Grinnell.

“Year after year there’s always a feel-good response, a community discussion, a forum and then two months later it happens again,” she said. “We understand that it’s not something that can change today, but … Grinnell really can become a safer place where people can talk about these things before hate crimes happen.”

Leaders of the SRC plan to host a sit-in today outside Nollen House, where Skerrett and President Raynard Kington’s offices are located.

The SRC did not present its list of proposed changes to Conner, Skerrett or Greene, according to each administrator, though each received the list through other means. Greene proactively sent leaders of SRC and the Student Government Association (SGA) a corresponding list of which administrators or offices they could approach to enact each proposed policy, or which were already working on similar policies.

Many of the proposed policies are already in place. The HCRP and its related documents, which are available on the Grinnell website, detail some of the existing practices, including providing sufficient mental-health resources, easy reporting of bias-motivated incidents and thorough recording of bias-motivated incidents.

The administrators who carried out the HCRP agreed that the HCRP helped them react effectively.

“This is a very good protocol,” Skerrett said. “It keeps us focused on the two priorities I believe should drive this—that is, safety and security, and very close collaboration and concern for the targeted individuals and their immediate social network.”

The target, her roommate and their SA were happy with how the administration worked with them.

“I’m very pleased with the response that the administration gave to our situation,” the target said. “It wasn’t ideal but it was very smooth.”

Conner was concerned that an independent student movement calling for large-scale change arose so suddenly after the incident itself.

“[The rally] I’m seeing in front of the JRC today [Thurs., Nov. 4] doesn’t worry me,” Conner said. “The speed by which something very large came about did give me pause and did give me concern, because my primary energies have been really focused on the targeted individuals, and it did seem incongruent with the messages from the targeted individuals.”

The SRC spoke to the target, but the target neither helped organize the rally nor collaborated on the list of suggestions for the administration.

“I feel it’s not my place to have a role in this because this isn’t about me and it’s not about our room, it’s about much more than that,” she said.
Once Conner and Greene were aware of the SRC’s plans, they offered their support to all of the students involved.

“All of us have the same goal in mind—making sure students feel safe and supported,” Greene said. “We just want to make sure that we do it in a way that is consistent with making sure that we’re not usurping the needs of the targeted individuals, yet honor all the needs of the community.”

Some students and administrators are also concerned that the SRC and its allies acted independently, outside of the HCRP and without broader input from the student body. Jumi Bello ’13, who was at the planning session for the rally, is worried that such public action was taken before many students knew the details of what had happened.

“How can you give the student body room to process what has happened?” she said. “It’s going to alienate people when they see this rally. … They’re not going to feel comfortable asking questions when they see that much raw emotion in front of them.”

Bello believes students should not look to the administration to prevent bias-motivated incidents, but should instead work to create a community more accepting of conflicting ideas.

“What is it that we are doing as a student body to perpetuate these actions?” Bello said. “I think that’s something a lot of people at Grinnell are uncomfortable talking about. … As a community, we don’t create spaces for students to talk about controversial issues like homophobia.”

By hosting a rally independent of Conner and the target, the SRC did violate the HCRP.

“Community-wide responses might include, but are not limited to: rallies. … The responses and resources will be tailored and mobilized by the designated staff member,” in this case, Conner, “as planned in discussion with the targeted individual(s) or group(s),” the HCRP reads.

Skerrett, Greene, Conner, and SGA President Ben Offenberg ’11 interpret this to apply to all community responses, including those initiated by students.

Thorisson, who was on the committee that created the current draft of the HCRP, disagrees about whether this should apply to students.

“We’ve never gone through administrators in terms of chalking or other student response [after previous bias-motivated incidents],” Thorisson said.

Administrators chose not to initiate such a rally out of a desire to guarantee the target’s security and according to the target’s wishes, based on talks with the target.

“The immediate responses are not, ‘Have a rally,’” Skerrett said. “The immediate response is, ‘Let’s find a place you can sleep.’”

Skerrett is open to working with students to improve the campus climate and the HCRP, but she wants to make sure student leaders do not use this hate crime in a way the target is uncomfortable with.

“I want to be careful that conversations we have with other student leaders [are] either generally about the Protocol and campus response, or that we are being careful about what the targeted individuals wish us to say,” she said.

In accordance with the HCRP, the Office of Diversity and Achievement will lead a bi-annual review of the HCRP. The review will incorporate new ideas and procedures based on the opinions of students—especially those targeted in this and any other hate crimes or bias-motivated incidents.

One perceived problem they hope to correct is that the initial email sent out to notify students that the HCRP was in effect was too vague. The email referred students to a letter on PioneerWeb, where more information would be available. The reason for such an indirect system of informing the student body of the details of the incident was that last spring, a similar email intended to notify students of a bias-motivated incident was forwarded to various external media outlets.

“A community member … forwarded it on to the local media,” Greene said. “We heard directly from targeted individuals in that instance that they felt re-traumatized.”
Possible modifications to the process include more clearly describing the scale of the problem in the email and including a direct link to the relevant page on PioneerWeb instead of just directions.

Regarding this hate crime, the administration has no future plans for public response, though they will continue to adhere to the wishes of the target. The Grinnell Police Department is conducting an ongoing investigation.

Students with any knowledge of the event are encouraged to call the Police Department at 641-236-2670.

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