When Michael Ross, Molly Sparkman, Besa Jones and three other students found that their project for their Training Needs Assessment capstone was not going to work out, they saw it as an opportunity to do some real good on campus.
The group held a panel discussion of four Portland State professors yesterday that aimed to educate and advise professors at PSU in the best ways to handle hate speech and discriminatory behavior in the classroom.
The panel stressed that empathy, setting up tolerant classroom environments and confronting students’ preconceived ideas were among the strategies that instructors could use to discourage discriminatory behavior.
The panel discussion was inspired a memo issued by President Daniel Bernstine last December, which cited PSU codes of conduct regarding "Hate Speech, Harassment, and Bias-Motivated Behavior in the Classroom." There had been rumors that instances of anti-gay speech had increased since the passage of Measure 36 in November, which banned gay marriage by defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman.
"The first thing we wanted to know was whether this was actually a problem," Ross said. In a survey of around 200 students, the group found that around 14 percent of students agreed or strongly agreed that they had heard anti-gay speech in classrooms at PSU.
In addition, around 27 percent reported that they had heard negative comments about other minority groups on campus, and 14 percent indicated that they felt the professor had not handled the situations correctly in both cases.
While researching, the group also found defamatory gay remarks scrawled on the walls of bathrooms around campus. While the group considered their survey informal, Ross said, the survey findings and the graffiti, in combination with rumors of increased hate speech and Bernstine’s memo demonstrated to the group that there was a need for this sort of training.
While no formal research has been done, statistics imply that increases in anti-gay behavior are not uncommon after a widely publicized event such as the passage of Measure 36.
Incidents of hate speech and non-violent acts can be hard to pin down, but according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), violence against gays and lesbians increased by 26 percent in major cities between June 2003 and March 2004 after the Supreme Court abolished sodomy laws across the United States in the Lawrence vs. Texas case. Also according to the NCAVP, statistics show increases in violence during events such as the coming out of Ellen DeGeneres in 1997 and a 1994 parade commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
The panel organizer’s original project was to evaluate a worker training program for a local organization, but the group is glad that their new project is more hands-on.
"This is actual creation rather than a passive role," Ross said, "I like the fact that we’re actually giving back to the community."