Campuses often provide conditions that can cultivate false reports of racist or anti-gay acts, experts say.
Nora Zamichow and Stuart Silverstein, L. A. Times, Apr. 20
Colleges across the nation have become the stage for hate crime hoaxes that thrust the purported victim into the limelight and twist campuses into turmoil.
At San Francisco State, two black students reported racial epithets scrawled in their dorms. At Northwestern University, a freshman told police that someone grabbed him from behind, held a knife to his neck and uttered an anti-Latino slur. At the College of New Jersey, the treasurer of a gay organization said someone sent threats on his life.
In each instance, police said, the alleged victims turned out to be the perpetrators.
Although such incidents occur everywhere, experts say college campuses can provide the perfect petri dish for cultivating a hoax: a community capable of rallying to correct a perceived injustice.
“A person who is a victim of a hate crime can probably expect to get almost universal sympathy on a college campus. Out in the world at large, that’s not necessarily true,” said Mark Potok, who has researched hate crime for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “But on a college campus, you are very likely to get the support of the administration, the faculty and virtually all the students. It tends to put you in the limelight very quickly.”
Last month, classes halted at the Claremont Colleges as students and faculty rallied in support of Kerri Dunn, a visiting professor of psychology whose car was vandalized and spray-painted with anti-Semitic slurs after a forum denouncing intolerance. A hate crime, Claremont police first said. But a week later, police alleged Dunn did it.
Dunn has denied any wrongdoing. The FBI and the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office are investigating.
Campus hoaxers are usually students, experts said.
“A professor is part of the power structure,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. “A professor also has much more to lose.”
Motivation varies. Some believe their cause is so worthy that any means of getting attention is justified. For others, it’s revenge. Still others are mentally ill, experts say.
In several cases, the perpetrator was attempting to divert attention from a personal problem or cover a mistake.
Sometimes hoaxes are staged for what seem like relatively trivial reasons. A San Francisco State student, Allison Jackson, now 21, reported to police in September that someone wrote “black bitches” on a dorm room door.
Later in the month, after being confronted with a handwriting analysis, Jackson said she faked the incident, according to a campus police report, because she wanted “a roommate change” and housing officials were taking too long to respond.
“I was given the advice that in order for the roommate move to be taken seriously, things needed to occur,” Jackson said, according to the report. She wrote on the door, she told police, “because that was the drastic event that was going to get us moved.”
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