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Responding to Hateful Incidents on Your Campus

At its best, a college campus is a thoughtful and accepting community, providing a place for education paired with a supportive environment for students, staff, and faculty. Campuses also reflect decisions and attitudes from the wider communities—local, national, and global—around them. As well, university communities experience their own challenges and, in turn, are impacted by events— including negative events—that take place in the larger world. All college or university campuses have experienced incidents of hate, prejudice, or discrimination. These instances often target marginalized or minority groups and individuals. When these attacks focus on religion, they are frequently Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, or targeting individuals that, because of what they wear or how they look, seem somehow associated with minority religious groups in the United States. The incidents themselves can vary in means and method: a derogatory word painted on a residence hall, swastikas scrawled on a prominent campus monument, or physical attacks on a female student wearing a hijab. Whatever their form, these acts are meant to convey hate or distrust for fellow members of a campus community. When these incidents occur, campus leaders often want to act quickly to signal that the bias behind the incident is out of line with the values of the campus community.

The following guide offers a set of suggestions for campus interfaith groups interested in responding in constructive ways to destructive acts.

 

The Context of Your Campus 

Although these incidents happen on every campus, the context of each campus is different. Whether public or private, religious or nonsectarian, rural or urban—each campus has their own unique history and norms. Make sure that you are taking your campus context into account when planning your response and think of ways to use it to your advantage. Baylor University, in Waco, Texas, is a Baptist-affiliated institution with a long tradition of Christian religious commitment. That commitment formed the basis for a university-wide gathering of students, staff, and faculty in response to anti-Islamic incidents in their state and the country as a whole. The prayer gathering brought over 300 people to the main quad of Baylor’s campus to show support for Muslim students in their community. It was organized by students and the Religious Life office on campus. 

Educate Yourselves and Others

An important factor, in both responding to current incidents and helping diminish future ones, is educating yourself and your interfaith group about the appreciative values of all people on campus. Campuses are religiously diverse spaces and incorporating interfaith and religious literacy into your events can help make your positive actions even more beneficial. During a time when American Muslims were being singled out and condemned by prominent media figures, the InterVarsity group at Northeastern University in Boston sent a public letter of support to Muslim  Responding to Hateful Incidents on Your Campus students on campus and invited them to a welcoming dinner. InterVarsity’s purpose was to learn from the Muslim students’ experiences and build relationships so that could better support their fellow students in the future. In a more intensive manner, the interfaith student group at Utah State University has organized ongoing speedfaithing activities These events allow for students to talk about their worldview and share a value from that worldview that motivates them to work with others. None of the students are experts on a specific religious viewpoint, but in offering their personal stories and beliefs, they are able to help inform others about their experiences. And, of course, make sure to spread the word about constructive responses in student media sources, social media outlets, and through contacting senior administrators, staff, and faculty. 

Find Allies and Be an Ally 

A key part of any interfaith work is identifying, building, and maintaining relationships with different individuals and groups. Responding to hateful incidents is no different. Indeed, it is important that interfaith groups work with multiple groups on campus not only to avoid appropriating the narratives or actions of targeted groups, but also to stand as a helpful convener for multiple organizations looking to respond with constructive actions. Make sure to communicate with such groups on campus before organizing your own response and hear about their needs and priorities. After a series of anti-Semitic incidents at the University of California, Davis, student interfaith leaders organized an event that focused on connecting allies across their campus. The director of the campus Hillel, interested students, campus staff, local church members, and others attended the event and strategized about how to move forward after the prejudicial incidents. The event brought a commitment from the head of the Student Affairs department to support and resource the organizers in creating a more welcoming campus environment for all students.

Collect Data and Narratives

An often overlooked, but tremendously beneficial, tool for responding to hate-based actions on campus is by providing data and narratives about these incidents to the larger campus community, including administrators. By collecting information about the campus climate in regards to religion, interfaith groups can connect a seemingly single incident to larger concerns on campus. The Student Affairs Department at the University of Vermont used this approach to better equip their staff to address issues of religious conflict. Paired with trainings, the department conducted a year-long examination of data on religion and higher education. By both examining and collecting this data, staff members have been better able to think strategically about interfaith engagement on campus. They also decided to create an Interfaith Coordinator staff position to manage an interfaith strategic plan. Other assessment tools, like the IDEALS survey or IFYC’s learning outcomes resource are helpful for thinking about campus climate and how it might reduce the frequency of discriminatory incidents.

Don’t Wait to Act 

While public, hateful, and disruptive incidents call for a response, it is just as important not to wait for those incidents to happen on campus. Interfaith groups should be proactive in promoting an atmosphere of engagement and support. Even absent a precipitating incident, Luther College, a liberal arts school in Decorah, Iowa, put forward a statement signed by administrators, students, staff, faculty, and community members condemning Islamophobia and proclaiming that their “diverse gifts and perspectives as a community of faith and learning lead us to a common commitment to justice, inclusion, and equality.” Interfaith groups, through their activities and relationships on campus, can establish a norm on campus of “common commitment.” When an incident does happen on campus, a network of supporters will already be established to respond.


For more information about interfaith responses to hateful incidents on campus, please visit www.ifyc.org or email info@ifyc.org