Commentary: Group calls on the need to address hate crimes

Northeastern is known throughout the Boston community as a progressive, accepting university. Students can walk freely around campus with confidence and assurance of their safety. However, on Sunday, Nov. 30, 2008, that atmosphere was disturbed. An unknown perpetrator defaced the alley of a Northeastern residence hall with the hateful and completely unacceptable words: ‘AIDS CURES FAGS.’ The message was discovered the following morning – Monday, Dec. 1 – which, coincidentally, is recognized internationally as World AIDS Day.

The university has taken action. The graffiti was erased from the wall. The residence director of the hall sent letters to the students addressing the incident. Vice President for Student Affairs Ed Klotzbier contacted Northeastern University’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning and Allied Student Group (NUBiLaGA), informed the group of the incident and expressed support for NUBiLaGA on behalf of the office. Finally, a statement was issued by President Joseph Aoun that strongly communicated the university’s support of its diverse community, including its gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning (GLBTQ) members.

From the students we spoke with, the emotions ranged from anger to shock to fear. The fact that this continues on our campus is a great disappointment. It signals that the existence of hate, ignorance and malice still surround the NUBiLaGA community and the AIDS epidemic. Despite our best efforts to raise awareness about these issues, it is dejecting to see these incidences occur.

Many students, faculty and allies are deeply disturbed and outraged that our campus has been defaced with such hate. This crime transgresses the right for all students to live and work in a safe environment. However, this is not just a GLBTQ issue. When bigotry infiltrates our campus, regardless of the targeted group, an ethical standard must be upheld out of the respect for human rights.

In the past, Northeastern’s campus was subject to similar acts of vandalism and hate. For example, racial slurs were sprawled across a wall in Stetson West, and a faculty member was the target of racism. Both of these incidents were met with swift action from President Aoun and the administration. The Stetson West residents were required to attend a meeting to discuss the situation. Students received an announcement informing them that hate has no place on campus and future incidents are unacceptable.

Acts of bigotry and discrimination impact everyone. If this issue were to pass unaddressed, the doors to further acts of hate would immediately open. The learning environment would be violated and a culture of hate could start to seep into everyday life. By acting in a timely manner, we have shown definitively that bigotry is never going to be tolerated on our campus.

This crime has not gone ignored. Aoun’s statement has reinforced the need for the Northeastern community to be aware and educated about incidents like these. A crime like this implies the possibility that worse incidents could happen. People should continue to understand that this behavior can never be tolerated. On behalf of a student initiative, we are in the process of organizing a program that allows for the anonymous report of threats and a peer-help center for students who feel targeted.

The university has chosen to echo this necessity. The Northeastern University Division of Public Safety, in connection with other campus centers, is publicly releasing a system for reporting bias, harassment and hate crimes, as well as a GLBTQ-inclusive counseling and support group sponsored by University Health & Counseling Services. As a united community, we will continue to address the problem so no person feels isolated. With this in mind, we would like to thank the university for its support.


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