University seeing uptick in reported on-campus bias incidents

Data from the University’s Bias Response and Referral Network has noted the on-campus trends.

Audrey Kennedy

There has been a consistent rise in reported incidents motivated by bias at the University of Minnesota.

The University of Minnesota’s Bias Response and Referral Network, which has collected bias incident reports since 2016, recorded 107 individual reported bias incidents between March 2017 and April 2018 — an almost 40 percent increase from 2016-2017, according to BRRN reports. 

While the BRRN data may not cover every bias or hate incident on campus, the information does show the types of incidents that have occurred, said Ann Freeman, director of Campus Climate Initiatives at the University. 

“What we get is kind of more of a reflection of the kind of things that are out there than any actual numbers,” Freeman said. “We’ve definitely noted a change on campus and an uptick in reports of hate and bias incidents, which is very much in line and keeping with reports that were increasing in campuses across the country.”

The BRRN also reports that the uptick in bias incidents on campus could be tied to awareness about the resource.

Muna Osman, president of the Association of Black Psychology Students, said she personally has seen an increase in bias incidents starting in late 2016. 

“I feel like people have a reason to act out and … discriminate against people they have an implicit bias towards, like it’s not going to be frowned upon anymore,” Osman said.

Incidents of white-supremacist propaganda, which include flyers, stickers, banners and posters containing hateful rhetoric, on college campuses nationwide has increased by 77 percent in 2017-2018 from the previous academic year, according to The Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. 

The BRRN primarily saw an uptick in anti-Semitic flyers last year and general slurs on campus, Freeman said.  

“It feels scary on campus sometimes,” said Eli Singer, Minnesota Hillel student board president. “When it goes into your own community it feels a lot more real and close to home.” 

While they do not investigate incidents, the BRRN sought out help from the Office for Student Affairs to create a group where students could support each other, Freeman said. The BRRN works with a number of different groups across campus after incidents occur. 

“Student groups will also step up and recognize spaces where people can come together and feel supported and have conversations,” she said. “We can reach out and say, ‘Hey, there’s an increase in these reports,’ and they’ll take it from there in terms of organizing a response.”

Osman, who transferred to the University from a small community college in Minnesota last year, said the campus climate at the University is more aggressive than what she had seen at her previous school. 

“I feel like [hate crimes there] were non-existent or unheard of,” she said. “Here, I feel like once something happens, the University does great at [responding], but after that there’s no follow up. Just ‘that’s wrong,’ and the people who actually experience it fall through the cracks.” 

Both Osman and Singer said they believe the University should do more work to prevent these incidents before they begin.

“It’s really hard to retroactively handle these issues. I believe we could form a more proactive response. It’s definitely a larger issue … but I would love to see more of a response to all hateful rhetoric,” Singer said. 

Correction: A previous version of this story falsely stated that there has been a rise in reported hate crimes at the University of Minnesota. Hate crimes and bias incidents describe different forms of conduct which are both motivated by bias. Hate crimes are forms of criminal activity whereas bias incidents are not necessarily criminal in nature. 

The previous version of this article also did not make clear that the uptick in bias incidents on campus could be related to awareness about the resource. It also did not make clear that the BRRN works with many groups across campus after incidents occur, not just OSA.

Cleo Krejci and Helen Sabrowsky contributed to this report.