A Hostile Enviroment: Hate Crimes Against Queers at MIT

by Joaquin Terrones


This essay takes as the definition of a hate crime any action that
creates an uncomfortable atmosphere for or causes mental or physical
harm to an individual or individuals on the basis of their inclusion
within a marginalized group. As in most other communities in this
country, queers are the targets of hate crimes here at MIT. These
range from purely verbal assaults in the halls and classrooms, to
vandalism and physical attacks. This paper will not deal with the
reasons and motivations for hate crimes here at MIT, rather it will
attempt to analyze the current system for responding to them and how
that system fails to address the problem properly.
	That hate crimes occur on a regular basis at MIT, this article
will take as a given. Crimes against queer people are rising across
the nation in a wave of homophobic backlash against increasing queer
visibility. It would be politically naive to assume that the same is
not happening here at the Institute. It is time to take our heads out
of the sand and realize that the same bigotry that resides out there
in the "real world" exists here at MIT.

Reporting Hate Crimes

	Through its inaction and apathy the MIT administration has
created an atmosphere in which it is awkward, uncomfortable, and
frustrating to report a hate incident. Currently there is no standard
process for reporting hate crimes at MIT. Depending on who the
perpetrator is, what the crime entailed, and what kind of action the
victim wishes to take against the perpetrator, the authorities to be
contacted in reporting a hate crime range from the Campus Police to
the head of one's own department. In very few cases are these reports
officially filed or even written down.
	In some cases, the seriousness of the situation is played
down, and the victim is encouraged to enter into confidential
mediation with the perpetrator(s). The perpetrator is not disciplined
in any way, and even though hate crimes are illegal in the state of
Massachusetts, the authorities are rarely notified. Instead, the
victim is asked to meet with the perpetrator and reach a "resolution,"
which usually involves a token letter of apology and a promise from
the perpetrator that this will never happen again.
	At other times, the victim's concerns are ignored. The victim
is told they are exaggerating the situation. The victim is then
relegated to the role of the hysteric; further complaints will just be
proof that this individual is being oversensitive.
	The administration's method of dealing with hate crimes,
through closed door mediation, coupled with their efforts to hush up
hate incidents from the public poses several problems to effectively
and seriously dealing with hate crimes at MIT. By engaging in
cover-ups and damage control campaigns, the administration fails to
address the actual hate crime itself.
	First, by not taking formal action against the perpetrators or
not making public such action when it is taken, the MIT administration
gives the impression (a fairly accurate one, at that) that
perpetrators may continue to do as they will without fear of
reprisal. This also creates an atmosphere where it is uncomfortable to
report an incident. If a victim of a hate crime has not seen any
positive results from someone else reporting a hate crime, it is much
less likely that they will report it. Additionally, the few
individuals that have loudly spoken out against homophobia at MIT have
been threatened or harassed because of it. This both silences these
individuals and intimidates others who might be willing to speak out
against hate crimes.

Privilege and Hate Crimes

	Hate crimes are illegal in the state of Massachusetts. Yet
time after time perpetrators of hate crimes at MIT are only
"disciplined" by the administration; never do they have to face
criminal charges. This is due both to the administration's
unwillingness to acknowledge that there is a problem with hate crimes
here at MIT and their desire to maintain a clean, trouble-free image
of MIT in the public eye.
	By virtue of attending school here, MIT privileges its
students, placing them somehow above the law, bestowing upon them the
special treatment and rights available only to the upper class people
that make up a large portion of the student population. An MIT student
who sells illegal drugs will usually receive a slap on the wrist by
the Institute's internal, private punishment system-no marks on the
record. This stands in stark contrast to a kid on the street who deals
the same drugs-he or she will serve jail time.
	The fraternity system at MIT is an oasis of additional
privilege within this already unjust system. Thus it is not surprising
that it is white fraternity members who are responsible for many of
the more outrageous hate crimes on campus. Most of the reported hate
incidents at MIT have involved fraternities. Because of the privilege
enjoyed by these upper-class, predominantly white, male
establishments, the fraternity system is both conducive to homophobia
and protects perpetrators of hate incidents. The individuals who enjoy
membership in them have tremendous leeway in what they can get away
with doing. Fraternity members commit hate crimes knowing that they
have a network of privilege to fall back on.
	For example, when a member of a fraternity commits a hate
crime, the behavior is dismissed with a "boys will be boys"
attitude. This condescending argument implies that homophobia is
natural, and a violent expression of that prejudice is to be
expected. This privilege gives them the right to do whatever comes
"naturally" regardless of its effect on other people.
	Oftentimes a fraternity as a group will commit hate crimes, or
the group will take responsibility for the actions of a few members
directly by refusing to reveal the identities of those involved in the
hate crime. These phenomena can be seen in the cases of the racial
epithets shouted from PBE and the homophobic slur painted by LCA. If
disciplinary action is proposed against the whole fraternity in such
cases, they protest, saying that the group should not be held
responsible for the actions of individuals. On the other hand, they
refuse to divulge the identities of the perpetrators claiming that it
is their duty and privilege to stand behind their brothers. MIT and
the fraternities thereby effectively create a convenient situation in
which no one is held accountable for the incident. This common pattern
is also a bald example of fraternity privilege.
	It is also in MIT's best interest not to discipline
fraternities or fraternity members or to have them publicly associated
with hate crimes. Rich fraternity alumni give some of the biggest
alumni contributions to the Institute, and the administration would
not want to upset them by punishing their precious greek letter
institutions, nor do they want to tarnish the gleaming image of
MIT. The concerns of ending hate crimes and homophobia seem to pale in
comparison to the fraternity's interests of "brotherhood," greed, and
maintaining a lily-white public reputation.

Awareness about hate crimes at MIT

	MIT-and the academic world in general-likes to think of itself
as enlightened. There is an unspoken belief that MIT does not suffer
from bigotry as much as the outside world, that people here are smart
enough to know better. Because of this prevailing attitude of
privileged denial, it is hard to raise awareness around issues of
sexism, racism and/or homophobia on campus.
	Efforts by student activists to address the problem of hate
incidents in any way other than on an individual incident-by-incident
basis have been met with apathy and sometimes even open
hostility. Usually these efforts just trigger another onslaught of
hate crimes against the individuals responsible for these
efforts. Raising awareness around anti-queer hate crimes is especially
difficult for activists. Hence, focus on anti-queer hate crimes is
often not taken seriously.
	The MIT community is unwilling to regard hate incidents as
part of a large problem rather than as a series of unrelated, isolated
events. We cannot begin to address the problem as long as we do not
look at it as a whole. We need to acknowledge the prevailing
homophobic attitudes at the Institute. Direct links must be made
between the various hate incidents at MIT and the pervasive homophobia
on campus.
	While speeches that address homophobia during R/O such as Will
Kiem's at the Killian Kick-Off are well intentioned, it is unrealistic
to assume that they will cause any significant change on
campus. People need to be made aware of the consequences they will
face if they are responsible for a hate crime. Again, MIT needs to be
more open about its disciplining policy, and it must not condone hate
crimes through its inaction.

Responses to hate crimes at MIT

	MIT keeps no reports on hate crimes against gays and lesbian
on campus. It sponsors no resources beyond Nightline or Contact Line
for the victims of these crimes. And in the cases in which the crimes
have become public enough as to cause outrage, the Institute has done
nothing more than issue an apology, leaving the victims to fend for
themselves.
	In an institution where the rational is treasured above all
else, it is difficult to find support for the emotional damage wreaked
by hate crimes. In our great bastion of rational thought the slightest
show of emotion is a capital sin, no sooner is the first tear shed or
the first heated word exchanged, than the complainant is immediately
disqualified, their obvious hysteria being a deterrent to a well
thought out, fair, cold methodical process. In order to garner even
the smallest amount of sympathy from the administration and the rest
of the MIT community, the victim must lay a clear point-by-point case
with overwhelming proof. With this lack of support from the MIT
community in general, the victim needs to have resources in order to
validate his/her concerns.

Cases at MIT

	The following three incidents were taken from Fight Back: An
Underground Guide to Fighting Harassment. Often when speaking of hate
crimes in a generalized way such as in the beginning of this article,
it is easy to forget the personal impact they have on real people in
our community. For that reason, the following incidents are used to
illustrate the effects that the problems mentioned above have had on
victims here at MIT.

A male professor who teaches a course in gay and lesbian studies
received eight death threatening phone calls in one evening which
included homophobic epithets. He had to ask the administration to
issue a public statement of disapproval which was eventually granted.

	Due to incidents like this and countless other homophobic
attacks, the professor in the above statement is currently on leave
and has been for the last few terms. Had the administration dealt with
the homophobic atmosphere that the professor experienced at MIT on a
daily basis, perhaps he would not have felt so unwelcome here. In the
end the perpetrator[s] achieved their goal: driving away one of the
few openly queer professors at the Institute.

GaMIT posters are continually ripped down, and anti-gay posters are
put up during BGLAD week.

	The fact that members of the MIT community will unabashedly
rip down posters in the middle of the Infinite Corridor at all times
of the day, might make us question how tolerant MIT really is. Not
only do homophobes feel comfortable about vandalizing queer posters in
full view of onlookers, but they are also encouraged by the inaction
of the people walking down the corridor. It is also interesting to
note that GaMIT posters get ripped down much more efficiently than the
anti-gay ones. It seems that few people on this campus find the latter
offensive enough to rip down.

A man was taking his first test at MIT in calculus. The man sitting
behind him in the room would lean forward at intervals during the test
and whisper "faggot." Afraid that to tell anyone in authority would
make it worse, he tells only people in his living group.

	Because the MIT administration has no resources for victims of
incidents like this, the student was not able to get anything done
about it. While there are certainly sympathetic administrators that
the student could have gone to, there was no way for him to know who
to go to and there was no formal apparatus to address his specific
concerns as a victim of a hate incident. Because of the apathy and
hostility with which queer people are usually met when they report
hate crimes, MIT should make an effort to make the resources they
offer to be explicitly queer friendly. A member of the MIT community
should not have to feel that telling anyone in authority would make it
worse. This fear is caused by worry that since no serious disciplinary
action is taken against the perpetrators there is the possibility of
retaliation.

What needs to be done

1. MIT must develop a clear policy to deal with hate crimes at the
Institute, whether they be motivated by homophobia, sexism, or
racism. This policy must include clear guidelines both for the victim
to file a complaint and for the administration to take disciplinary
action against the perpetrators.

2.  Perpetrators should be prosecuted to the full extent of the
law. Being an MIT student or a fraternity member should not allow a
perpetrator to avoid justice. It is privilege of this sort that
encourages students to commit hate crimes. When finding out about hate
crimes, the MIT administration should notify the authorities rather
than deal with it on a purely internal level.

3. Awareness must be raised. Perpetrators must know that their actions
are wrong and will not be tolerated. Victims must be made aware of the
resources available both in terms of counseling and grievance
filing. Awareness on issues of homophobia and bigotry is crucial to
reducing prejudice and intolerance.

4.  MIT administration must provide resources for the victims of hate
crimes. Contact Line and Nightline are not enough, MIT should hire
professionally trained counselors specifically for victims of hate
crimes. The administration should also have if not an office at least
one person to handle complaints as with harassment there needs to be a
centralized system for dealing with hate crimes.  {byline} 


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