Task Force: Hate Crimes a Symptom of San Jose State Campus Climate

In 2011, a sociology professor released a study on the campus climate at San Jose State University that noted problems with minorities feeling singled-out, isolated and discriminated against—sometimes even by faculty. The report’s author, Susan Murray, offered three recommendations: require diversity training for all staff and teachers, establish an office of campus diversity and incorporate diversity research into the tenure process.

Murray used the focus group interviews cited in her research to demonstrate the subtle and blatant discrimination some students face from the institution, their peers and authority figures. The school disregarded her direction.

But in the wake of a hate crime that allegedly unfolded over the course of a couple months last semester, the report takes on added significance. A task force convened to study the incidents leading up to those hate crimes spent two hours Friday night talking about Murray’s research and how the racial bullying that became national news last fall may have been symptomatic of an unhealthy campus climate.

San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP chapter president Rick Callender pointed to a passage in the study that talks about problems in the freshman dorms, the same place where the then-17-year-old victim reportedly endured weeks of physical and verbal abuse because of the color of his skin. In the report, another student from several years prior described his first-year living situation as hostile and intolerant.

“But my probably most unwelcoming experience was in the freshman dorm housing,” he told a focus group. “There is very little sensitivity put in by the housing services to really make sure that you’re comfortable with who your roommates are, in my opinion. And to make sure that lifestyles are met. And this goes beyond the LGBT experience, I believe. I had roommates that were literally racist and used the N-word as well as the F-word (fag) and it was just a very difficult experience.”

Perhaps more surprising, however, were the day-to-day microagressions students reported from teachers and staff.

“The system is trying to weed out a lot of I guess, minorities or people that they would suspect wouldn’t do as well in the—in the university system,” one student in the study said. “I was talking with an advisor in [one department], and he mentioned something about certain faculty expecting black students to fail.”

Other teachers would single out black students by asking them to make statements on behalf of other African Americans, according to some students.

“There’s been several instances in my classes where the professor would, give an example of something that’s kind of like, stereotypically black and they would call like, ‘Oh, [student’s name], do you?,’” one student athlete said. “Like, am I the only black person? But I don’t speak for everybody. So yeah, I’ve had that type of example, where I guess I’ve been looked upon for answers for our culture.”

Conversely, other black students felt ignored.

“The [name of discipline] teachers, especially the older ones, and, I mean white ones, are known to be racist toward minority students that are in their classes,” one student said. “And I didn’t really believe that it was true. And so, a few weeks ago, I was in—I don’t really know if this is why it happened, but I’m just guessing—I was in lecture. And it’s a pretty big lecture. And I had a question, I raised my hand, and my hand was clearly up, the only hand clearly up for a good five minutes, because I was kind of being stubborn, like you see my hand, you’re gonna call on me kind of thing. And I would not get called on. But then somebody else raised their hand up a different, like a white person, and they got called on, like, instantly. And so, I was very upset about that.”

Gay and transgender students of color said they saw a lot of heterosexism from the school in a lack of resources and with certain assumptions made as an institution.

“Actually, when you fill out the housing application and there is one line and it literally says, ‘Do you have any homosexuality issues?’” a gay student told the focus group. “That is the exact phrasing. ‘Do you have any homosexuality issues?’ And I was in counseling at the time, and I asked my friend who knew I was gay, and I was like, ‘Do I say that I have any homosexuality issues?’ And she was like, ‘What does that even mean?’ What do you write?”

“Really? It says that?” a lesbian student asked.

“Yeah, that was in there,” the other replied. “It was like, ‘Do you have any homosexuality issues?’ I’m like, ‘No, but I am one.’”

Murray said the problems noted in her study aren’t uncommon.

“The experiences of the students and the staff and the faculty in these reports are not unique to San Jose State,” she said. “These things are happening in every university and other places across the country.”

Murray said she hopes that with national focus trained on San Jose State, the school will step up and educate the people who work there about how to interact with a diverse student body. Diversity training, she said, has to come from the top down, starting with the people on staff since they’re there for years while students come and go.

“It has to be part of our contract,” she said. “If it was very explicitly written into the things we’re required to do as a faculty, I think that might go a long way in starting to see participation in these things.”

Stephanie Tang, an activist and writer, said the hate crimes that landed national headlines last fall is part of a widespread problem, perhaps a growing one.

“This hideous incident is so much bigger than what happened at this one campus,” she told the task force during the public comment period. “The incident here has ramifications … at another school, someone hung a confederate flag and a noose. … We’re hearing more and more these types of things happening on other campuses. The Zimmerman verdict put on a green light for the white racists … tens of millions of them, who think that their insecurities about the future can be taken out on others.”

Read the report in its entirety on the university’s website. The next task force meeting takes place at 5:30pm March 6 in the Engineering Department.

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

4 Comments

  1. There is a culture of racism and indifference at San Jose State that has been in existence for over twenty years.  The complete dissolution of student activism on campus within student leadership is the number one problem.  Believe it or not, the student government at San Jose State erected a statue to John Carlos and Tommie Smith, and then through the incompetence of student leaders and student affairs staffers, they allowed the student voice to die.  It is close to the idea of celebrating Thomas Jefferson, and then rejoining the British empire. 

    One of the most horrible examples of racism during the 1960s was a practice of “blacklisting” student activists.  If those activists left one university, they were denied a chance at another.  Go the archives of the SJSU President in 1962 and there is a letter detailing his objection to a student transferring from Mississippi.

    Cases in point:

    1980s, a business professor, Thomas Laurie wrote a letter with a KKK dragon on the letterhead.  There was an attempt by some students to seek a hearing and it was rebuffed

    2006
    Alphonso De Alba, an executive director of the student government was paid over 187,000 dollars a year, and manipulated student government elections.
    De Alba was fired for serving alcohol to minors at a student government retreat, and the students who turned him were the student leaders he was “mentoring.”

    Richard Kelley, the Student Government Advisor, personally worked to depress student voter turnout.  It is now less than .05 percent.  Student government representatives in the Academic Senate speak less than Clarence Thomas.

    The result, a Student Affairs which does nothing, and does not encourage student activism at all.  William Nance, the Vice President of Student Affairs held a wine cheese party in his office during a student protest march on fee increases, and Nance actually stood at the windows hold a glass of wine, like Marie Antoinette laughing at student protests.

    The Housing Office at San Jose State has had a decade of poor management, hence the tragedy.

    Believe it or not, Joe Trippi, the nation’s top political consultant, manager of the New Democracy movement of Howard Dean, was a student body vice president, who once initiated a 75 point attack on a university president for opposing affirmative action.  Trippi’s days are long gone.  Now the University President at San Jose State offers a free week in Vienna for student government leaders as long as they hear and see no evil.  The leadership of San Jose State brought this racist incident to a head due to their desire to have students in the closet as much as possible.

    Look at the case of a student named Johnson who was found dead in a fraternity.  Metro ran it, and the University did nothing.

    If you are an African American, you are an endangered species in the view of University officials.

  2. And they wonder why people might be resistant to diversity “education”.

    “The Zimmerman verdict put on a green light for the white racists … tens of millions of them, who think that their insecurities about the future can be taken out on others.”

    Even if this was true, all ten of millions of them, does Ms. Tang think this is the case in CA which is about to become majority Hispanic this year? Is she aware that Zimmerman was Hispanic?  Does she care?

    I know she thinks race matters, but most people don’t think it matters anymore. When diversity education is advocated by people like this, it is no surprise some will not listen.

  3. This is not an isolated issue. Everyone has bias, whether it is based upon an opinion, facts, experiences, preference etc. The problems begin when actions are taken to express individual bias and they violate the law and people’s basic human rights. If this were simply about bias, one of the most racially biased individuals I’ve ever come across, Ladoris Cordell, was brought in to spearhead the investigation!

    Ms. Tang is delusional. I would love to see some tangible evidence that whacko Zimmerman’s court approved murder has led to more “white racists” taking aggressions out on anyone. If anything, the converse is true. (Oakland riots anyone?)

    The bottom line here – thus far, I’ve yet to see any progress toward eliminating racism (and bias towards others based upon gender or sexual orientation) through spelling out all of the people who are to “blame” and going on a witch hunt to burn them and anyone remotely similar to them at the stake.