Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Getting Tough on Campus Racism: Department of Education Puts Onus on Institutions

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Getting Tough on Campus Racism: Department of Education Puts Onus on Institutions

Article excerpt

Getting Tough on Campus Racism: Department of Education Puts Onus on. Institutions

by Mary-Christine Phillip

WASHINGTON, DC -- Some of the nation's colleges and universities are taking a wait-and-see attitude on the Department of Education's updated guidelines for probing racial harassment on campus.

The new get tough policy, outlined in the March 10 Federal Register, puts much of the onus of monitoring a campus' racial climate on the institution. Failure to eradicate such hostility could result in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and a subsequent loss of federal funds.

According to the document, "the existence of racial incidents and harassment on the basis of race, color, or national origin against students is disturbing and a major concern.... Racial harassment denies students the right to an education free of discrimination."

Under the guidelines, racial harassment could be verbal, graphic, physical or written, and includes different treatment of students based on race, or the existence of a racially charged environment.

Colleges and universities will be responsible for dealing with racially hostile environments if the incidents are reported to college officials or if officials know about such incidents upon diligent inquiry.

Release of the guidelines comes at a time when many institutions are grappling with speech codes and First Amendment rights.

Raymond Pierce, deputy assistant secretary of education for civil rights, says the guidelines aren't attempts to infringe on rights to free expression. The goal, he insists, is to "offer safeguards to those persons who may become victims of this type of harassment."

"It's a way of giving guidance to a college or university on how not to allow the existence of a racially hostile environment," he says. "Free speech is free speech. We are not inhibiting free speech, but at some point speech and conduct can go beyond protection of the First Amendment and become damaging.

"A person is not allowed to stand in a crowded theater and shout 'fire' if there is no fire and create a stampede. Likewise, students or anyone else on campus cannot be allowed to continue, through words, to harass others."

Pierce said that in 1993 the department found a number of violations in cases in which students claimed racial harassment.

"Many people would consider there is a rise in the number of racial harassment [incidents] on campus," he says. …

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