Naeem Holman compared being a victim of prejudice to erosion.
One little comment barely makes an impact, but repeated offenses over time can wear at the victim and tear them down, Penn State Black Caucus president Holman (senior-integrative arts) said.
“[Prejudice] is belittling because [prejudiced people] don’t see you as a person, they see you as a color, they see you as a stereotype, see you as a character,” Holman said. “And they don’t see you as their equal.”
Prejudice is the act of making general assumptions of a person or a community based on limited understanding, Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Co-Founder of World in Conversation Sam Richards said.
This action creates ignorance about a community and a generalization of a larger demographic, Holman said.
In 2012, there were five reported bias motivated incidents at Penn State University Park, according to the Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity reports. This number has dropped from the 12 reported in 2011 and the 22 reported in 2010, according to the reports.
But in reality, Penn State Police Chief Tyrone Parham said these numbers should be zero.
The impact on those affected
For John Sanchez, an associate professor in the College of Communications, prejudice is like a cancer.
“Prejudice makes the victim feel defensive and works on you like a cancer does on a person,” he said via email.
Prejudiced people rely on stereotypes to inform themselves about what they think they need to know about a person, member of the LGBTA Student Resource Center Aaron Maiolo said.
“Prejudice is the gateway to hurtful and intentional racism, homophobia and inferiority and superiority complex,” Maiolo (sophomore–English) said.
A person who experiences prejudice is denied a chance to explain who they are and share their story, Maiolo said.
They might experience shame, anger, sadness, withdrawal or an increase in motivation to make changes, instructor in Sociology and co-founder of World in Conversation Laurie Mulvey said. But prejudice can have a range of influences and it is impossible to predict the impact on each individual, she said.
But prejudice does not only impact the victims –– it also affects the perpetrators.
When people go into a situation pre-judging, they limit their potential experience, Richards said. With this attitude, the prejudiced person excludes themselves from opportunities to learn and grow –– not only is this harmful to their own growth, but it’s also damaging to the growth of society and culture, Richards said.
Prejudice also prevents that person from a chance to learn about a community from that community’s perspective, Maiolo said. It can divide a community and lead to harassment, abuse and violence, he said.
This attitude can leak into careers, health, safety and other institutional opportunities, Mulvey said.
The reason behind the hate
Penn State alumni and creator of the Penn State Black History website Darryl Daisey was a resident advisor of his floor when he had his own experience with prejudice.
During this time, he said he basically got along with everyone, but there were some incidences when his residences were intoxicated and they would call him degrading and racist names.
“I chalked it up to that people are not exposed….[Its] not hate but lack of knowledge… ignorance,” Daisey, Class of 1983, said.
Mulvey said people are prejudice because of rumors, bad experiences, needs to process lots of information and to make quick assessments, especially in unfamiliar situations.
People often fear things that are unfamiliar with them then judge those things as bad, Mulvey said.
But ultimately, prejudice is spawned out of fear and lack of understanding the world, Richards said.
“We don’t know and are unable to experience [everything], so we easily come to fear [things] because people tell us to,” Richards said. “[So] we naturally form prejudice opinion without knowing a thing.”
Therefore, people are taught to fear what others fear and be prejudice against what other people are prejudice of, Richards said.
The laws and prejudice
The United States provides equal opportunity to all people and laws are supposed to protect this right, Director of Penn State Behrend Educational Equity and Diversity office Andy Herrera said.
According to “University Park Policies, Safety and U,” Penn State’s annual security and fire safety report, hate crimes at the university include all the crimes listed in the report, but also includes evidence that the victim was chosen based on bias.
These biases include race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity or national origin and disability, according to the report.
Hate crimes are regular crimes, but because of the prejudice aspect, the repercussions against the perpetrators are more severe, Parham said.
With hate crimes and crimes of bias, the action has to be proved purely motivated based upon prejudice towards an individual group, Parham said.
In Pennsylvania, an ethnic intimidation offense is defined as an offense motivated by hatred towards the race color, religion or national origin of another individual, their property or group of individuals, according to the Pennsylvania State Legislative Crimes and Offenses.
What’s going on at Penn State?
Penn State offers nearly 1,000 student organizations, with dozens focusing on cultural, ethic, nationality, religious and other differences, Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims said.
When people are immersed in diversity, they learn about the world, Richards said. No one can do everything, but they can learn about different experiences from different people, he said.
If individuals value, embrace, support and empower each person, it not only would benefit the individuals, but also the society, Herrera said.
Contact with other people is one of the most important factors of exposure to diversity, Mulvey said.
Any activity or class that brings students together from divergent backgrounds reduces prejudice, Richards said. In these activities, people share different ideas, but also notice their similarities, Richards said.
“You can’t harbor these prejudices if you sit down and talk to these people you have prejudices about,” Holman said.
Penn State is a tolerant and accepting campus in comparison to other communities, but there still has to be improvement, Maiolo said.
Many people are not culturally sensitive and do not always realize something that they say can be hurtful, UPUA Chair for Diversity Emily McDonald said.
There are many opportunities for students to learn about diversity and prejudice prevention at Penn State.
The Penn State Police conduct media interviews and presentations in residence halls about diversity, Parham said.
There are classes including BBH 251: Straight Talk and World in Conversation.
And the University Park Undergraduate Association has a Diversity Council that meets once a month with different organizations around campus to gather input from a range of views, McDonald (sophomore–economics and international politics) said.
Also, UPUA is creating a video about the origin of the “We Are” chant and the connection to combating racism, she said.
“Its easiest for us to live inside of our bubble, we gravitate towards people who are most like us, that’s just the human way,” Richards said. “[But] it’s important among individuals to step outside of that [bubble] and look for people who are not like them.”