Hateful graffiti sets record

Offensive graffiti found in Centennial Hall marks the sixth report this year.

Kevin McCahill

Students found racial and ethnic slurs painted on the walls of a rest room in Centennial Hall.

The incident last week was the sixth reported on-campus bias crime this year, setting a record for the most reported racially motivated offenses since 2000.

Swastikas, the phrase “White Power” and comments directed toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students were found in rest rooms and stairwells on multiple occasions, according to a letter that was sent to all Centennial Hall students by Hall Director Jill Pravatiner.

Steve Johnson, deputy police chief for the University Police Department, said there are no leads on the case. Officers photographed the graffiti, which was in a public men’s rest room, when they were called.

“The bottom line is there isn’t any (further) evidence,” he said.

The case is inactive pending more leads, Johnson said.

Johnson asked that anyone with information regarding the incidents contact police.

The incident is another in a growing number of reported hate or “bias crimes” – those motivated by bias against another group. There were no bias crimes reported in 2003, but there were five in 2004 and the Centennial Hall graffiti marks the sixth report this year.

Johnson said it is possible that more students are reporting bias incidents.

“People are very tuned in to (sensitive issues),” he said. “That is a good thing. We shouldn’t tolerate (bias) in our communities.”

He didn’t say what penalty the perpetrators could face but said it could be considered freedom of speech because the graffiti was in a public place and didn’t target a specific person.

“It’s an emotional area that raises people’s ire, but there are rights to be able to express opinions,” Johnson said. “But there is no right to damage property.”

Kevin Dostal Dauer, coordinator of residential life, said bias crimes are irregular occurrences in residence halls.

“Obviously we are disappointed that there are individuals who would express their opinions that way,” Dostal Dauer said.

Residence hall communities will meet to discuss the incidents and the expectations of students living in the halls, he said.

“It’s unexpected,” he said. “But students will express opinions the way they want to express their opinions.”

Johnson urged students to remain vigilant and report any graffiti or racially based incidents to police or residence hall directors.

“Let someone in authority know,” he said. “There are many more eyes and ears of people that live there than on our patrol.”

Centennial Hall residents said they were disappointed by the people who did the damage.

“It’s sad that some people would do that,” said first-year student Anne Williams.

First-year elementary education student Dan Jensen said he hasn’t sensed any racial tension since the incident.

First-year elementary education student Brenna Fishman said, “I think it’s just kids being stupid. They are just being immature.”

Members of the Hillel organization as well as the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Program Office couldn’t be reached by press time.