Student workshop set to improve tolerance

by Hilary Thomson
Staff writer

Despised, scorned and denied respect.

These words from Canada's criminal code describe the victims of hate crime, the focus of a new program offered by the Women Students' Office (WSO).

The awareness and education workshop, called Not On Our Campus, was launched after racist graffiti was scrawled across a WSO poster promoting the Women of Colour Mentoring Network.

"We wanted to respond to this type of intolerant act as a community," says Begum Verjee, WSO counsellor and co-chair of the Not On Our Campus Committee, which has representatives from across campus.

Addressing these acts through the Safer Campus Peer Education Program is a good fit since these issues are safety issues, Verjee says.

The workshop aims to help the campus community gain a better understanding of hate crime, identify acts of intolerance, help individuals deal with the trauma of being targeted and provide information on resources.

Kyra Pretzer heads the student committee that developed the workshop.

"We want to take a stand against certain attitudes and beliefs to make this a toxic-free environment where everyone can be comfortable with and respectful of others," says Pretzer, a fourth-year Sociology student.

The Not On Our Campus workshop identifies a broad spectrum of intolerance, says Pretzer. It will also offer strategies to respond to acts of intolerance, including a campus phone list for reporting incidents.

The Not On Our Campus Committee aims to develop a data bank of reported incidents that will provide a detailed, objective picture of hate crimes at UBC.

Committee members recently invited Sgt. Rick McKenna of the Vancouver City Police Dept.'s hate crime team to talk to the UBC community about hate crimes.

Racism, discrimination and hate crime can be grouped to form a pyramid, says McKenna.

At the bottom of the pyramid are individual prejudicial thoughts, stereotyping and acts of prejudice such as avoidance of disliked groups. These are issues that can be addressed through community education and action, he says.

Illegal acts comprise other levels of the pyramid. These acts range from discrimination and exclusion of privileges to assault, terrorism and genocide.

In 1998 the hate crime team received 98 formal reports of crimes in B.C. that are motivated by prejudice, McKenna says.

One reported hate crime has occurred at UBC since the team was established 18 months ago. Unreported racist and other forms of graffiti have appeared on campus in the same period according to committee members.

B.C. law defines hate crime as a criminal offence committed against a person or property that is motivated by a prejudice or bias against identified groups on the basis of race, nation of origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, colour, language or mental or physical disability.

If students, faculty or staff witness or believe they are the targets of intolerance, they can contact Safer Campus co-ordinators at the WSO, deans and heads of units, the Equity Office or the RCMP.

"This is a battle we're all in together," says WSO counsellor Laurie Minuk who co-chairs the Not On Our Campus Committee. "We don't want to leave targeted groups on their own -- we want to provide a united response."

Not on Our Campus workshops for students start this month. For further information on the workshops call the WSO at 604-822-2415.