Photos by Kyan Mahzouf
Students gather in the College Nine and Ten Multipurpose room for Breaking the Silence, a community forum on hate and bias at UCSC. The event featured several keynote speakers and forums for discussion. Photos by Kyan Mahzouf

Standing before about 150 people, Cherine Badawi broke the silence by speaking sharply into her microphone: “Help with immigration — kill a Mexican.” Badawi is not promoting discrimination. She is quoting a real instance of hate crime, a message scrawled on a wall at UC Santa Cruz this past year.

Badawi was one of two guest speakers presenting at the “Breaking the Silence” forum on Feb. 6 in the College Nine and Ten Multipurpose Room. She was accompanied by her longtime friend and collaborator, Arthur Romano, an international peace advocate and professor at George Mason University.

The night’s events opened with a spoken word performance by UCSC undergrad Storm Thomas.

“You tell me,” she said with raw emotion. “If a black body swings from a tree and no one is around, does it make a sound?” Thomas’ words were met with a standing ovation and thunderous applause.

“We’re here because we know hate hurts… it leads to despair, violence, self-harm and even suicide,” Badawi said. “And believe it or not, three out of four incidents of hate go unreported.”

Badawi and Romano asked students about the apathy that seems to follow issues of hate speech. One student answered, “I’m not really sure — I guess it just seems like there isn’t enough we can do.”

Badawi explained the psychological nature of human interaction, citing examples of scientific experiments where 90 percent of the time in a group setting participants would respond only if someone else responded first. She said the more people begin to stand up against hate speech, the more they will influence others and be able to collectively make a difference.

Joy L. Lei, event coordinator and assistant campus diversity officer, said the event was spurred by real hate crimes and recent instances of bias that occurred within the UCSC community.

“This past fall we received a number of reports of hate graffiti,” she said. “One of the sprays had a swastika. There were also derogatory slurs used against African Americans, Asian Americans and Muslim students, for example.”

A student community response team was organized to address these concerns, as well as a hate and bias response team made up of staff, faculty and administrators.

After about an hour the audience split into three workshops to speak in close-knit groups about the issues.

Herbie Lee, vice president of academic affairs and member of the hate and bias response team, spoke out in a workshop at one of the event’s breakout sessions. He explained how the response team addresses acts of hate on campus.

“When a report is filed,” Lee said, “an email goes out to the administration. We have to then decide which one of us will look into the issue, to meet with the student if they would like to meet with us, and see what can be done.”

The few administrators at the breakout session went on to collectively define what hate speech is and the difference between hate speech and hate crime.

“Hate speech,” they said, “is spoken, written or other forms of communication directed at a person based off a discriminative remark. Hate crime involves the same kind of discriminatory remark, but includes the commitment of a crime. Assault or graffiti would be an example.”

Regardless of the complications and differences among various types of discrimination, they said, if students feel uncomfortable with any remark that may seem discriminative, they should report it to the team.

“We hope through the educational campaign and what the forum presents, students can take away the knowledge and tools to use in their everyday lives,” Lei said. “This issue is all around us and we are far from addressing it to our potential as a community.”

Students can file reports here