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 faternities. 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 their 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.