As a bright-eyed first-year, I was tripped and pushed on Thayer Street by a man calling me an anti-Asian slur. I was harassed and threatened by six teenagers on a bus who shouted that I had caused COVID-19. Hate crime figures have risen dramatically nationwide, increasing 13.4% in 2020 according to Federal Bureau of Investigation data and another projected 21% in 18 states and Washington, D.C., in 2021. I appreciate that The Herald’s Editorial Page Board, Eiden Spilker ’24 and Willis Goldsmith ’69 P’99 have criticized antisemitism and the University’s response to it because our campus is no stranger to intolerance. But there are ways that we — as students, staff, faculty, alums and neighbors — can address acts of hate against the Jewish community and all other targeted communities by providing support for those affected and reporting incidents we witness.
People are often surprised to learn that progressive Providence is the site of hate crimes, but they happen everywhere and they deserve a systematic policy response. We should listen to the recommendations of leading organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and NAACP, and we should advocate for action from the Providence City Council and Rhode Island General Assembly. But collective action does not absolve us of individual responsibility. We all must stand up and speak out against hate.
I didn’t report either of my first-year encounters with racism, unsure if anything could be done to address them. I’m not alone in that. Research by the Carnegie-Knight News21 initiative found that more than 2.4 million suspected hate crimes were committed between 2012 and 2016, but only 30,000 were reported to the FBI by the local police. That’s a reporting rate of just 1.3%. According to the United States Bureau of Justice Assistance, one of the largest barriers to confronting hate crimes on college campuses is that they don’t get officially reported — by the victims or by the friends and mentors whom they turn to.
If you see someone facing harassment, please don’t hesitate to call Brown’s Department of Public Safety at 401-863-4111 and step in if possible. Every time I’ve been harassed and attacked, I was surrounded by bystanders who simply watched. When that happens, you feel as though the whole community is apathetic to your struggles. If you see something, do something: Bystander intervention works.
If a classmate, friend or even stranger tells you about a bias incident, listen to them. If they’re in immediate danger, you can call DPS if you’re on campus or the Providence police if you’re off campus. If they’re not in immediate danger, let them finish speaking before offering your support and asking if they are okay talking about what to do. For instance, DPS has a non-police law enforcement advocate to provide support to survivors of sensitive crimes. If you observe or experience a non-emergent bias incident, please contact DPS at 401-863-3322 or anonymously through DPS’s Silent Witness Reporting. For a non-law enforcement approach, you can report incidents to the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity; bear in mind that reports indicating gender-based violence or harassment will be referred to the Title IX and Gender Equity Office and reports indicating risk to physical safety will be referred to relevant campus units such as DPS. It’s important to report bias incidents to Brown even if nothing illegal happened so that we as a campus are aware and able to address them together.
If you hear anything resembling bigotry — from friends or from strangers — speak up. People sometimes make mistakes and say the wrong thing; this doesn’t excuse their behavior or invalidate your feelings, but it does make talking through the issue even more important. Ask for clarification, explain how their words made you feel and don’t take on an accusatory tone. Your conversation can be a learning opportunity for both of you.
White supremacist propaganda has spread rapidly throughout Rhode Island. College campuses across Providence have been vandalized with racial slurs. Brown students have been threatened with antisemitic violence. For the sake of our friends, our neighbors and ourselves, we need to take prejudice seriously. We must be ready to personally speak up against bigotry. Our community is no place for hate.