Campus hate crimes on the rise

ST. LOUIS — It’s tempting to think of college campuses as islands of enlightenment, places where students embrace new ideas, people and cultures without the specter of hate hanging overhead.

Tempting. But it’s not always the case, as demonstrated by events on campuses across the nation in recent months.

There were cotton balls scattered outside the black cultural center at University of Missouri-Columbia. There have been racial slurs and a threat of lynching at St. Louis University.

There was a swastika scrawled on a bathroom wall near a Jewish studies center at the University of Miami.

There were death threats against black students left on a bathroom wall at Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio. And a white fraternity sparked an uproar at the University of California San Diego, when it sponsored a ghetto-themed “Compton Cookout” to mock Black History Month.

To be sure, such events have always been part of the American landscape. But campus and diversity experts say they’ve seen a surge in the past year, poking yet another hole in what increasingly appears to be the myth of a post-racial America.

“I guarantee that any given campus in the nation will have small incidents like these in a given year,” said Darnell Cole, an associate professor of education at the University of Southern California who studies diversity issues.

But Cole and others see a correlation between a rise in campus hate crimes and the increasingly nasty exchanges taking place among our nation’s politicians and leaders — on both sides of the political spectrum. It would be naive, they say, to not expect that discord to show up on campuses.

The nation’s first black presidency, he said, has simply provided “kindling for the fire.”

It’s difficult to know just how much hate crime is occurring on college campuses. Justice Department data suggest that 12 percent of hate crimes occur on either college or school campuses. The numbers aren’t broken down to show how much of it happens at universities. And experts say many instances of racial or sexual slurs are never reported.