The recent wave of responses to the antisemitic comments Kanye West made on Twitter shows how uncomfortable and unprepared we are as a society to address religious-based bigotry, especially when it occurs on social media.
And, as our data indicate, colleges can’t handle it either.
Our research shows that universities are ill-prepared to address religious-based bigotry. We surveyed 185 institutions across the U.S. as part of the Interfaith Spiritual Religious and Secular Campus Climate Index (INSPIRES Index) and found that bias response teams are common at 63% of the institutions. However, 8 out of 10 institutions did not have particular training or preparation to deal with religiously motivated hate crimes.
There also seems to be a gap in the infrastructure needed to respond to campus climate issues including religiously motivated hate crimes. For instance, 7 out of ten universities don’t have a specific resource to report bias incidents, and 9 out of 10 said that they don’t notify students about hate crimes as soon as they occur.
Further, the majority of institutions may not be creating sustainable reporting and response mechanisms. There has been a surge of resources allocated toward DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) offices and positions in the wake of Black Lives Matter – a trend reflected appropriately in the abundance of bias response teams. That said, our data suggest that much more work needs to be done to respond effectively to campus climate issues that are religiously motivated.
Educators should consider finding ways to discuss issues like antisemitism and other forms of religious hate decoupled from political ideologies—hate is hate regardless of the party of the perpetrator or their voting decisions. All students, especially those who hold minoritized religious identities, need to experience affirming and welcoming campuses where hate and bigotry are addressed quickly and properly – a point of increasing importance as we approach the mid-term elections in November.
The need for transparency when communicating with the campus community is also evident. Institutions should have protocols to communicate with students when instances of antisemitism and religiously motivated hate crimes occur so that there is less distance between the occurrence of an incident and the outreach to students about it.
Finally, more intentional infrastructure beyond simply having a dedicated team needs to be in place. Reporting forms for hate speech need to include the option to indicate religiously motivated bias, specifically. Also, students need to be familiar with the location of these forms and what they can expect in terms of communication with regard to hate crimes on campus.
While it appears that colleges and universities are taking some action to address campus-based hate and bias, like establishing a bias response team, many are still falling short of addressing religiously-based hate. If universities themselves are not prepared, how can we expect them to fulfill their mission of educating citizens who can identify and discourage religiously motivated hate?
Our students should not turn to Kanye West as a spokesperson for identifying and perpetuating religious hate or to Twitter as an example of responding to it.
Dr. Matthew J. Mayhew is the William Ray and Marie Adamson Flesher Professor of Educational Administration with a focus on Higher Education and Student Affairs at The Ohio State University.
Musbah Shaheen is a Graduate Research Associate in the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University.