By James Weir
Western Michigan University strives to be a diverse and accepting college campus to all students. What does it mean that WMU has no reported hate crimes?
Zero hate crimes were reported at WMU from 2014 to 2016, according to WMU’s annual security and crime report. WMU’s hate crime statistics are comparable to other public universities in Michigan. For example, Central Michigan University, Grand Valley University, and Saginaw Valley University, have zero hate crimes reported in recent years too.
Scott Merlo, the chief of police at WMU’s police department, said he believes that WMU is an accepting college campus. However, nowhere is bias-free.
He said WMU police would categorize a crime as a hate crime for any Clery crime, especially any cases that were motivated by a bias.
The Clery Act requires all universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime on and near their campuses. A bias is a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.
“Hate crimes are a specific intent crime and there are actually very few incidents that occur in the Kalamazoo community which rise to the level of a hate crime,” Merlo said. “A hate or bias-related crime is not a separate, distinct crime, but is the commission of a criminal offense which was motivated by the offender’s bias.”
Merlo said he doesn’t feel WMU students are affected by hate crimes. Therefore, for the size of WMU, the number of all crimes reported is pretty low.
“My perception of the campus community, in general, is very accepting and inclusive of all,” Merlo said.
Merlo said WMU has security employees all over campus who are trained to report Clery reportable crime to the campus police, including hate crimes. He said WMU police work closely with groups or offices that represent marginalized students, such as LBGTQ students, and there have been very limited student concerns reported to them of any type of bias or mistreatment.
Merlo said a victim may feel that he or she was targeted because of a bias issue, but without statements made during the incident or confessions from the offender that he or she committed the act because of a bias, it would be difficult to prove.
One indicator of the atmosphere in terms of acceptance of different kinds of people on campus is the WMU Campus Climate Study. The 2013 report’s goal was to collect data on the campus climate for diversity at WMU.
Overall, the campus climate for diversity at WMU reported by respondents was more positive than negative. Almost 92 percent of the responders positively supported the survey, according to the campus climate report.
Additionally, among respondents who had experienced unreasonable or inequitable behavior, less than one-third said that they made a formal complaint regarding one or more of those occurrences, according to the campus climate report.
“Great universities, including Western Michigan University, strive for an inclusive environment in which the student body, faculty, and staff reflect society at large. Western Michigan University has a long history and well-deserved reputation of being committed to diversity and multiculturalism,” WMU President John Dunn said in a statement about diversity, multiculturalism, and inclusion.
Moreover, students in different marginalized groups talked about diversity and hate crimes at WMU.
Matthew Hanna, a gay male WMU junior studying journalism, and creative writing, said he wasn’t surprised by the data.
“There is a lot of diversity here, and not much animosity,” Hanna said. “WMU does a good job of showing diversity.”
WMU rotates the flags at the flag pole by Sangren Hall promoting diversity. Hanna said WMU promotes different types of diverse clubs, too.
“Western is more progressive than other schools,” Hanna said.
Markese Burton, an African American male WMU sophomore studying business and computer information systems, said he’s not shocked by the hate crime data either.
“Everyone is generally really nice here,” Burton said. “Peers don’t insult others on purpose based on biases.”
Burton said WMU does a good job of establishing a campus of diversity. The first couple pages on WMU’s website shows lots of diversity. He said he couldn’t picture a WMU student targeting another student for a bias crime.
“I haven’t experienced a bias motivated incident here at WMU,” Burton said.
Cinthia Mendoza, a female Hispanic WMU junior studying behavioral science, said WMU students are respectful. She said she understands there might be some cases of discrimination, but WMU is highly diverse.
“Hate crimes are another level of crime,” Mendoza said.