BC students working together against hate

Members of BC Students United held their second discussion with Bellevue College administration regarding hate speech written on the bathroom walls and library desks, student safety on campus, BC anti-discrimination rules, communication issues between faculty and students and student representation on campus committees. The meeting was open and anyone on campus could attend. Even though all of these topics were discussed, the hate writing and discrimination against minority groups were the main focus of this meeting. The conversation was guided, proceeding through a list of demands that BC United had published on May 19. “It was really a way to build our community together,” said Interim VP for Diversity Sayumi Irey, who moderated this meeting as well as the previous one.

Ray White speaks at the meeting.
Ray White speaks at the meeting.

The first topic covered were issues of communication, especially regarding the hate writing against Muslims and members of the LGBTQ community. Dave Rule was the first to speak, apologizing for a mistake he made sending out emails regarding the graffiti. The students were not informed of the hate writing in April like the staff was. Rule said he discovered the oversight after students raised complaints, and then sent the email to all of the students as well. “Ultimately, I’m the president of the college. My fault,” he said.

The discussion then turned to the hate writing itself and the fact that Public Safety has not released what the hate writing said. BC United wanted to know what the writing said, but faculty and Public Safety members stated that because of the Bellevue Police investigation, they could not release that information. Director of Public Safety Tommy Vu explained that he wanted to be as transparent as possible but he actually had to talk to Bellevue Police department before attending the meeting so that he could know what he could and couldn’t reveal about the investigation. “When it comes to investigation, when it comes to anything pertaining the law,” said Vu, “Bellevue Police will have first jurisdiction on our campus.”

A small conflict about the hate writing was whether it was targeted at a specific person or not, with BC United saying that the BCPD was not taking the case seriously enough. Raymond White, BC’s vice president of administrative services, maintained that there was no threat to any individual person. “The writings contained no specific threats or details to suggest that students are in eminent danger,” he said. However, Maryam Hussain, a member of BC United, said that one of her friends, a hijabi girl who sat at the same table in the library every day, lifted the keyboard of her computer one day, “and she saw under her keyboard, ‘Muslims are the enemy kill them all’.” Hussain went on to say that the fact “a visible hijabi girl is sitting at that computer table every single day and one day she sees this” means that somebody probably knew she was going to sit there and wrote that hate message there so she would see it. “That obviously shows that this is being targeted at her,” said Hussain.

Despite some differences in opinion, the faculty and students at the discussion agreed on some of the changes demanded, such as restructuring of the policies and personnel of food services, addressing differential treatment of student groups when using campus space, as well as better wages for faculty and to maintain and improve diversity services on campus. Another thing they agreed on was bringing back the Jewish Student Union, which was previously disbanded due to harassment and death threats to its members.

BC United’s demands also included implementing a zero tolerance policy for racism, discrimination and differential treatment regardless of whether the perpetrators are faculty, staff or students, with a list of consequences which included leave without pay, mandatory sensitivity training and expulsion. “I do think that the college should clearly define its stance on discrimination and free speech with specific regard to these types of incidents. There is a huge debate going on in this country about our First Amendment rights being under attack,” said Fernando Perez, BC English instructor, “The thing we all forget about free speech, however, is that no matter how free you are to say whatever you want, you still cannot scream ‘fire’ in a theater of people. You might be ‘free’ to say something offensive but that does not mean that the impact you deliver will not come with consequences.”

In the end, many people said that it was a successful meeting. Ray White described it as “honest, painful, enlightening, productive” and said that he was “thankful for the opportunity to respond to our students’ fears and concerns” and “proud of the students for bringing the conversation forward.” From this meeting, he and others realized that the staff, faculty and student leadership were all allies against hate, but hadn’t been communicating well enough up to this point. From now on, faculty members have stated that they will coordinate efforts with students and try to keep them as informed as the investigation permits. “From both listening sessions, what I realized was how much students love this campus,” said Irey. “I want students, not some students, but all students to know that we’re here together. We’re fighting hate crimes together.”